Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #306844; Unpublished
Judges Boonstra, Sawyer, and Murray; Unanimous; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
The Michigan Supreme Court DENIED Leave to Appeal on 4/11/2014; Link to Order
Entitlement to No-Fault PIP Benefits: Motor Vehicle Involvement [§3105(1)]
Duplicate Recovery [§3109(a)]
Exception for Motorcycle Injuries [§3114 (5)]
Equal Priority Situations [§3114(6)]
Applicability of Limitations to Claims by Insurers Against Other Insurers [§3145]
This case involved the question of whether the insurer of a police vehicle was obligated to participate in equal priority sharing of the responsibility for paying PIP benefits to a motorcyclist who was being chased at a high rate of speed by the police officer at the time of the accident and, thus, whether the police vehicle was “involved in the accident” within the meaning of §3114(5). The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court determination that the police vehicle was involved in the accident, even though there had not been physical contact with the police car and there was evidence that the police officer had attempted to “back off” the pursuit immediately before the crash.
Eugene Brothers was operating a motorcycle when Shiawassee County Deputy Sheriff David Flores observed him traveling at an excessive speed and began pursuit. Flores testified that he reached speeds of nearly 100 mph and continued several miles in pursuit until the motorcycle turned off onto a dirt road. Flores testified that he then considered “breaking off pursuit” and slowed down because of sharp curves on the road. He later came upon the motorcyclist separated several feet from his motorcycle, having apparently collided with another motor vehicle operated by Denise Putnam. The vehicle operated by Putnam showed evidence of damage from impact with the motorcycle. State Farm, as Putnam’s automobile insurer, paid personal injury protection (PIP) benefits to Brothers, pursuant to the priority provisions of MCL 500.3114(5), which provides that an injured person may recover PIP benefits arising from a motor vehicle accident that occurred “while an operator or passenger of a motorcycle” if that person has suffered accidental bodily injury “arising from a motor vehicle accident which shows evidence of the involvement of a motor vehicle while an operator or passenger of a motorcycle.”
In this action, State Farm sought to hold defendant Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority, the insurer of the Shiawassee County Deputy Sheriff’s vehicle, responsible for a share of the PIP benefits paid by State Farm to the motorcycle operator, pursuant to the provisions of MCL 500.3114(6) which requires that if two or more insurers are in the same order of priority to provide PIP benefits under subsection (5), an insurer paying benefits due is entitled to partial recoupment from the other insurers in the same order of priority.
State Farm’s claim of pro rata sharing as to Michigan Municipal Risk was dependent upon proof that Brothers was an “operator” of his motorcycle at the time of the accident and that his bodily injury arose from a motor vehicle accident which showed evidence of the “involvement of a motor vehicle” while he was an operator or passenger of a motorcycle.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals rejected the argument of Michigan Municipal that there was insufficient evidence to show that Brothers was actually operating his motorcycle at the time it collided with Putnam’s vehicle. Although there were no eyewitnesses to the actual impact with Putnam’s vehicle, the Court of Appeals held that the eyewitness testimony placed Brothers on his motorcycle moments before the accident. The court held that a trial court may grant a motion for summary disposition based on circumstantial evidence. In this case, Michigan Municipal, the non-moving party, offered no evidence that fully supported its position, but only speculation based on an absence of certainty on the issue of whether Brothers was an “operator” of the motorcycle.
With regard to whether the police vehicle was “involved” in the accident, the Court of Appeals held that this case involved circumstances similar to those in Turner v Auto Club Insurance Association, 448 Mich 22 (1995), where there was no physical contact between the vehicle and the injured party, and the case involved a “police chase” situation. In upholding the trial court determination that the police vehicle was involved in the accident, the Court of Appeals held that here, as in Turner, the case involved an officer who decided to pursue a vehicle with activated lights. Like Turner, Brothers did not pull over, but rather accelerated. Like Turner, Flores attempted to back off immediately before the crash out of concern for safety. The Court of Appeals held that unlike a single vehicle accident situation, in a multiple vehicle accident, once a motor vehicle is established as giving rise to the claimant’s injuries through its use as a motor vehicle, the question becomes whether a motor vehicle was “involved” in the accident, which “encompasses a broader causal nexus” under Turner. Additionally, the court noted there was evidence that Brothers made several sharp turns and that Flores believed Brothers knew he was being pursued. This evidence supports the inference that Brothers’ actions were in response to Flores’ pursuit.
The court also addressed defendant’s argument that the one-year-back rule contained in MCL 500.3145(1) precluded at least a portion of State Farm’s claim for reimbursement. Michigan Municipal argued that State Farm’s claim was one for subrogation and that as subrogee, State Farm acquires no greater rights than those possessed by the injured party. As such, Michigan Municipal argued that as a subrogation action, the provisions of §3145(1) would bar the claim. In rejecting this argument, the Court of Appeals held that State Farm’s claim arises under MCL 500.3114(6) and the court had previously addressed the same issue in Titan Ins Co v Farmers Ins Exchange, 241 Mich App 258 (2000), involving the almost entirely identical provision found in MCL 500.3115(2), dealing with property protection benefits. The court stated that Titan Insurance recognized that actions for recoupment under §3114(6) are not subrogation actions and, therefore, §3145 (the one-year-back rule) does not apply to recoupment actions.
The Court of Appeals also addressed an issue relating to payment of Brothers’ medical expenses by his health insurer and, once again, by the no-fault auto insurer, pursuant to a “double-dip” claim. In this situation, Brothers’ health insurer paid over $200,000 of PIP benefit claims that were also paid by State Farm. Michigan Municipal argued that State Farm should not have paid such claims because the Putnam auto insurance policy was a “coordinated” benefits policy under MCL 500.3109a. In rejecting this argument, the Court of Appeals noted that under MCL 500.3109a, it specifically provides that an insurer providing PIP benefits may offer at appropriately reduced premium rates, deductibles and exclusions reasonably related to other health and accident coverage “on the insured.” Further, the statute provides that any deductibles and exclusions offered under this section “shall apply only to benefits payable to the person named in the policy, the spouse of the insured, and any relative of either domiciled in the same household.” The Court of Appeals held that §3109a is inapplicable to this case, because Brothers was not the insured under the State Farm policy. Section 3109a is inapplicable with regard to payments made to an injured party not named in the relevant policy nor related to any named insured.
The court also rejected Michigan Municipal’s argument that the so-called “double-dip” benefits which were paid by Brothers’ health insurer were not “reasonable charges incurred” by Brothers under the No-Fault Act. The court stated that this same argument had already been addressed and rejected in Shanafelt v Allstate Ins Co, 217 Mich App 625 (1996).