Facts & Ruling by Court:
Three cars were traveling south on M-37 approaching a curve in the roadway. Heading northbound was a motorcyclist. The first of the three cars was looking for wood. It is here where testimony of several witnesses differed on what actually occurred next: the driver of the first car says he slowed and pulled completely off the road; others said he stopped abruptly and straddled the fog line before getting off the travel lane. The second vehicle says she slowed and that there was no way she could pass the first car and therefore, she either came to a complete stop or was almost stopped; the testimony was disputed whether she was straddling the fog line. The third motorist came around the curve to see the two cars ahead as described. He could not go left or around the second car because he thought she was in the travel lane; he therefore swerved over the center line at the same time the motorcyclist was rounding the corner in the opposite direction. The car struck the motorcyclist who was killed.
The estate for the deceased motorcyclist sued the three motor vehicles for liability damages suffered by the family’s loss of their loved one. The third motorist who actually crossed the center line and struck the motorcyclist settled out of court. The remaining two motorists (one and two in scenario) contested their role as being a factor in this occurrence. The Court of Appeals agreed with the estate that a jury must decide whether the actions of one or both of the two motorists also played a role in causing the accident. The Motor Vehicle Code requires that motorists not travel too close behind another so as to be able to stop safely within the assured clear distance ahead. This is commonly referred to as the basic speed law. MCL 257.627(1). A motorist also may not stop or park his or her motor vehicle in a travel lane when it is possible to pull completely off the travel lane. MCL 257.672(1). Finally, the common law requires every person to exercise ordinary care when engaged in any undertaking so as to not endanger others.
What this means for injured persons.
As to liability for personal injury damages claims, this case illustrates that multiple liability policies may be applicable. Do not accept an insurance carrier’s denial of liability because it is not the final arbiter of your claim; instead, a jury of your peers makes that decision for you.
Even though this case did not discuss the application of no-fault benefits, it nevertheless does illustrate that more than one auto no-fault insurer may be liable to pay the motorcyclist’s no-fault claim under MCL 500.3114(5). These benefits include medical bills, wage loss, replacement services and if necessary, funeral expenses and survivor’s loss benefits. The no-fault statute only requires that a motor vehicle be “involved” in the incident with a motorcycle; not that it actually comes into physical contact with the motorcyclist. MCL 500.3114(5). Therefore, when factual scenarios illustrate that more than one motor vehicle may be involved, the motorcyclist or his/her estate must apply for no-fault benefits with all of the involved motor vehicle insurers. One will accept responsibility and pursue recoupment from the others. Failure to notify all potentially liable insurers in the same order of priority could prove detrimental and lead to only a partial recovery of no-fault benefits. MCL 500.3145.
What this means for medical service providers.
This case illustrates that when collecting an injured motorcyclist’s charges incurred for care, medical providers must submit their claims to all involved motor vehicle insurers involved in the motorcycle accident. Failure to do so may be partially fatal to recovering fully, the charges owed. MCL 500.3145.
You can read this Opinion here.
Authored by L. Page Graves