Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #306492; Unpublished
Judges Boonstra, Sawyer, and Murray; Unanimous; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Entitlement to No-Fault PIP Benefits: Motor Vehicle Involvement [§3105(1)]
Exception for Motorcycle Injuries [§3114 (5)]
Disqualification for Uninsured Owners or Registrants of Involved Motor Vehicles or Motorcycles [§3113(b)]
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam Opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s determination, pursuant to summary disposition, that plaintiff motorcyclist was entitled to PIP benefits in a case where the plaintiff “laid down” her motorcycle to avoid hitting a tractor-trailer ahead of her, where there was not any physical contact with the tractor-trailer, and where there were disputed factual issues as to whether the tractor-trailer was “involved” in the accident within the meaning of the priority provisions of MCL 500.3114(5). The Court of Appeals held that there were disputed issues of fact as to whether the tractor-trailer “actively contributed” to the accident based upon conflicting allegations as to whether the tractor-trailer had its lights on at the time of this nighttime accident.
The accident occurred at 10:00 p.m., during darkness, with decedent plaintiff Smutzki operating her motorcycle on Haggerty Road behind a tractor-trailer that was apparently turning into the driveway of a plant when the accident occurred. Witnesses indicated that the motorcycle operated by Smutzki appeared to attempt to brake in response to the turning tractor-trailer, and it appeared she laid down her motorcycle to avoid hitting the tractor-trailer. There was conflicting evidence as to whether the trailer’s running lights or turn signal were on at the time of the accident.
Pursuant to a motion for summary disposition, the trial court determined that under MCL 500.3114(5), there was sufficient evidence of a “motor vehicle involved in the accident” within the meaning of §3114(5) of the priority provisions of the No-Fault Act and, therefore, Smutzki’s Estate was entitled to receive PIP benefits.
In reversing the trial court determination, the Court of Appeals stated that under §3114(5), in order to be entitled to no-fault benefits, the operator of a motorcycle must show evidence of the “involvement of a motor vehicle” in the accident. The Court of Appeals noted that generally when there is physical contact between the injured party and a motor vehicle, the motor vehicle is deemed involved under §3114(5). However, even if there was no physical contact, a motor vehicle can still be involved in the accident. However, under Turner v Auto Club Insurance Association, 448 Mich 22 (1995), in such situations where there is no physical contact, there must be evidence that the motor vehicle alleged to be involved in the accident must “actively as opposed to passively, contribute to the accident.” The Court of Appeals determined that the trial court erred in concluding that the tractor-trailer was involved in the accident as a matter of law. The court held that the fact the tractor-trailer was making or preparing to make a left turn, by itself, does not establish its involvement in the accident. The court rejected the trial court determination that the tractor-trailer was involved, because Smutzki was reacting to its presence in the road. To be involved in an accident, a vehicle must actively contribute to the accident. However, the Court of Appeals determined that because there were factually disputed issues as to whether the tractor-trailer had its running lights or signal activated, the failure of which could mean that its presence on the road actively contributed to the accident, the matter was remanded to the trial court to proceed to trial.
The Court of Appeals also determined that plaintiff was not disqualified from benefits under the provisions of §3113(b), which would disqualify a person from such benefits, if at the time of the accident, the person was the owner or registrant of a motor vehicle or motorcycle involved in the accident, with respect to which the security required by §3101 or §3103 was not in effect. The court held that a separate declaratory judgment action against Smutzki’s insurance provider had previously determined, as a matter of law, that Smutzki did, in fact, have coverage on the date in question. The court rejected defendant’s argument that it had not had a fair and full opportunity to litigate this issue in the declaratory judgment action which involved an action against Smutzki’s personal auto insurer, not the defendant, Auto-Owners, which insured the tractor-trailer. The Court of Apepals upheld the trial court determination that the doctrine of collateral estoppel applied and that Auto-Owners was bound by the determination in that declaratory judgment action.