Police Vehicle in Pursuit of Fleeing Motorcycle “Involved” in Motorcyclist’s Accident with Another Vehicle and County Liable to Participate with Auto Insurer in Reimbursement for Medical Care

In, State Farm v. MMRMA, the Michigan Court of Appeals addressed whether a police vehicle in pursuit of an uninsured motorcyclist who was fleeing was sufficiently “involved” in an accident between the motorcyclist and another vehicle such that the insurer of the latter vehicle (State Farm) could seek pro rata contribution from the county’s insurer, the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMRMA) for reimbursement of medical and other expenses for the motorcyclist’s injuries.

The county sheriff observed the motorcyclist exceeding the speed limit and engaged to pursue and stop him.  After a chase at speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour, the sheriff lost sight of the motorcyclist, who had turned onto a winding dirt road.  The sheriff continued down the dirt road and soon noticed a plume of smoke in the distance.  He came upon a vehicle, which had collided with the motorcycle.  The motorcyclist was severely injured.  State Farm, the insurer of the motor vehicle that collided with the motorcycle paid personal insurance protection to the motorcyclist for his injuries in the amount of $675,114.16.  State Farm then sought contribution from MMRMA, which refused, asserting the sheriff’s vehicle was not involved in the accident.

State Farm filed a declaratory judgment action seeking contribution under Michigan Compiled Law (MCL) 500.3114(5), which provides:

A person suffering 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 shall claim personal protection insurance benefits from insurers in the following order of priority:

(a) The insurer of the owner or registrant of the motor vehicle involved in the accident.

(b) The insurer of the operator of the motor vehicle involved in the accident.

(c) The motor vehicle insurer of the operator of the motorcycle involved in the accident.

(d) The motor vehicle insurer of the owner or registrant of the motorcycle involved in the accident.

There were other issues raised in this appeal, but the primary, and therefore dispositive, issue concerned the question whether the motorcyclist’s accident arose out of a motor vehicle accident which involved the county sheriff’s patrol car.  If yes, then the county’s insurer was required by the terms of MCL 500.3114(5) to participate pro rata in the reimbursement by State Farm of the motorcyclist’s PIP benefits.

The Court of Appeals concludes the county sheriff’s patrol car was “involved” in the accident.  The Court states the motorcyclist’s injuries “shows evidence of the involvement” of the county sheriff’s patrol vehicle.  The Court relies on a 1995 Supreme Court case in which the court held a police vehicle pursuing a fleeing motorist was sufficiently “involved” in a multi-vehicle crash involving the motorist even though the police vehicle had backed off the chase moments before the accident.

In my judgment, reliance on the 1995 case is out of line with more recent pronouncements on causation by the Supreme Court.  See, for example, my discussion of another recent case in which, relying on more modern Supreme Court precedent, the Court of Appeals held that where a motorcyclist who avoided a collision with another vehicle, an auto insurer would not be responsible to reimburse medical expenses incurred by the motorcyclist.  That post discussing the case is here:  DMC v. Progressive – Hospital Not Entitled to Reimbursement from Auto Insurer Where Motorcyclist’s Injuries Caused by Attempt to Avoid Collision with Motor Vehicle

Granted, the statutory provision in that case is the more general causation statement in MCL 500.3105, but the Court of Appeals here attempts nonetheless to distinguish “single vehicle” involvement with multi-vehicle involvement in the accident by relying on the vitality of the 1995 Turner decision by the Supreme Court.   Such a causation analysis seems contrary to the causation analysis employed in the more recent decision McPherson, discussed in my previous noted blog post, and further discussed in my post about that case here:  McPherson v. McPherson – Recent Pronouncement by Supreme Court on Level of Causation Required Under No-Fault Act

Considering the Supreme Court’s more recent pronouncement in McPherson, the dubious nature of the causation analysis employed in the 1995 Turner decision, the facts presented here, and other contrary Court of Appeals opinions, I believe this case is destined for further appellate treatment by the Supreme Court.

There are different statutory provisions at stake, but the attenuated nature of the causation analysis employed by the Court of Appeals in the instant case does seem to warrant further treatment by Michigan’s One Court of Justice.

We shall see.

For more information about this and other similar cases contact Carson J. Tucker, Chair of the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones, LLP, a Birmingham law firm serving clients since 1912.  Mr. Tucker can be reached at (248) 283-0763.  For more information about Lacey & Jones, click on the following practice area company pages on Linked In.

Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Appeals and Legal Research Group

Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Insurance Coverage and Recovery Group

Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Civil Litigation Group

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