Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 106465; Unpublished
Judges Weaver, Murphy, and Griffin; Unanimous; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
In this opinion by Judge Griffin, the Court of Appeals affirmed a non-jury verdict finding that each of the insureds of the insurance company defendants had "involvement" with the motor vehicle accident, and were thereby required to contribute a pro rata share of the no-fault benefits to the injured party under §3114(5) and (6).
In this case, a motorcyclist was killed in a multi-vehicle, chain reaction collision. Hastings Mutual, the insurer of one of the vehicles involved, paid no-fault benefits and sought recoupment from the insurers of the other involved vehicles. The car insured by Hastings rear-ended a vehicle insured by Auto Owners, and thereafter spun across the opposing lanes and was struck by a vehicle insured by State Farm. The Hastings insured vehicle was then struck broadside by a motorcyclist, and a fourth vehicle insured by Citizens then struck the motorcyclist.
State Farm, Auto Owners and Citizens all argued on appeal that the trial court committed "clear error" in finding that the death of the motorcyclist arose from "a motor vehicle accident which showed evidence of the involvement of a motor vehicle" insured by each of the three defendants.
The court noted that interpretation of the critical triggering phrase "show" evidence of the involvement of a motor vehicles as found in §3114(5) was a matter of first impression. In finding that each of the vehicles insured by the defendants had "involvement" the court relied upon the decision in Stonewall Insurance Group v Farmers Insurance Group, 128 Mich App 307 (1983) which construed the phrase "motor vehicles involved in the accident" as found in §31 14(5). In the Stonewall, supra, case the court found that to be involved there must be "an active link as opposed to a passive link" between the motor vehicle and the accident.
In the instant case, the court held that the Stonewall definition of an active link contributing to the accident should also be applied to §3114(5). On appeal, the court would not reverse the finding of the trial court that there was evidence showing involvement by all four vehicles in the accident, since this finding was not clearly erroneous.
The court also rejected the argument of Citizens that a "pro rata recoupment" from insurers in the same order of priority was not an "equitable distribution of the loss among all the insurers" as required by §3114(6). The court held that the partial recoupment provision in the No-Fault Act must be viewed in its historical context, which at the time of enactment of the No-Fault Act, was one in which the general contribution statute authorized contribution on a pro rata basis without regard to fault. The equal, pro rata division of responsibility is consistent with the primary purpose of the No-Fault Act which is the prompt resolution of claims without regard to fault. To assess damages against insurers based upon the percentage of fault of their insureds would subvert the goals of the No-Fault Act. Therefore, the court affirmed the decision of the trial court finding each of the defendants' insureds had involvement with the accident, and ordering distribution of the loss on a pro rata basis.
Judge Murphy concurred to the extent that the trial court's finding of involvement was not clearly erroneous, and also concurred in apportioning responsibility equally among the four insurers.