Michigan offers tremendous natural beauty-the splendor of Tulip Time in spring, winding and majestic shorelines in summer, and spectacular fireworks of color in autumn. What better way is there to enjoy this outdoor playground than on a motorcycle? But, as many motorcyclists learn, there are a lot of automobile drivers on Michigan highway unaccustomed to sharing the road with motorcycles and unaware of the special safety concerns motorcyclists face. Those drivers may not understand motorcyclists need the full width of the lane for room to maneuver, may misjudge the speed and distance of a motorcycle on the basis of its smaller size, may not realize motorcyclists need advanced warning before nearby automobiles change lanes or turn, and may not realize relatively minor road hazards can pose a serious risk to motorcyclists1. This lack of awareness can quickly transform a leisurely motorcycle ride through the country into a tragic accident. And when tragedy occurs, it is important for the motorcyclist to consult a qualified attorney to ensure his or her rights under Michigan’s no-fault law are protected.
Most motorcyclists do not know how Michigan’s no-fault law applies to their accident. Foolish ones rely on an insurer for information on whether and to what extent they are entitled to reimbursement for their injuries. As we will discuss in this overview, the law applicable to motorcycle accidents is tricky and relying on an insurer’s representations may lead to losing valuable rights and benefits under the no-fault law.
With the adoption of the no-fault act2, the Legislature required the “owner or registrant of a motor vehicle” to purchase “security for payment of benefits under personal protection insurance, property protection insurance, and residual liability insurance.”3 But the Legislature defined the term “motor vehicle” to exclude motorcycles: “‘Motor vehicle’ means a vehicle, including a trailer, operated or designed for operation upon a highway by power other than muscular power which has more than 2 wheels. Motor vehicle does not include a motorcycle or moped . . . .”4 The owner or registrant of a motorcycle does not have to purchase a no-fault policy with personal protection insurance (commonly referred to as PIP benefits). Similarly, the Legislature only required no-fault insurers to pay PIP benefits for “accidental injury arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle . . . .”5 When a motorcyclist is in an accident that does not involve a motor vehicle, the motorcyclist will not be entitled to PIP no-fault benefits-instead, the motorcyclist must rely on his or her own first-party medical insurance, if they were purchased.6
Michigan’s Legislature excluded motorcycles from the no-fault system because it believed requiring motorcyclists to purchase no-fault insurance would cause premiums so high that motorcyclists could not afford insurance.7 Instead, the Legislature required motorcyclists to purchase insurance to cover injuries they may cause to others and damage to others’ property.8 The Legislature also recognized it would be unfair to preclude a motorcyclist from recovering no-fault benefits when the motorcyclist is involved in an accident with a motor vehicle.
Although the Legislature did not require motorcyclists to purchase no-fault insurance, it determined motorcyclists-like pedestrians and bicyclists-should collect PIP no-fault benefits when involved in an accident with a motor vehicle. By granting this, the Legislature recognized the “actuarial data in the record tends to show that motorcycles are rarely at fault in motor vehicle accidents.”9 The Legislature qualified motorcyclists for no-fault benefits by defining a motor vehicle accident to mean “a loss involving the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle regardless of whether the accident also involves the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motorcycle as a motorcycle.”10
The key term is “involving”-a motorcyclist will only be entitled to PIP no-fault benefits if he or she can show the accident involved a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle. In many situations it will be unclear whether a motorcycle accident involved a motor vehicle; this is especially true for accidents where a motor vehicle caused or contributed to the accident but did not contact the motorcycle.
Charles Bradley worked third shift at a GM plant. He got out of work at 3 a.m., hopped onto his 550 Honda motorcycle, and left for home. He rode in the left-most lane on a one-way street with three lanes. There was a stream of cars behind him and a light-colored Subaru next to him in the center lane. Suddenly, Bradley noticed a shadow in his lane up ahead. He looked over his shoulder to see if he had enough room to cut into the center lane, but too late; Bradley rode into a parked pickup truck in the left lane. He fractured his left femur, his left elbow, right wrist, right thumb, left forearm, and cracked his left kneecap.
Bradley sought PIP benefits from his wife’s automobile no-fault insurer, but the insurance company denied his request-it claimed his accident did not “involve” a motor vehicle because the parked truck was not illegally parked.
On appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals noted a motor vehicle need only be “one of the causes of injury” and “actual contact with the motor vehicle is not required.” There must be a causal connection between the injury sustained and using a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle that is more than incidental or fortuitous. Where the injury arose from a foreseeably identifiable use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle, the motor vehicle was said to be involved in the accident. The court concluded the Subaru was involved in the accident, but not the parked pickup truck:
[Bradley] was uncertain whether he first sped up or slowed down in order to switch lanes. This is not material in our view. The normal use of a motor vehicle, i.e., driving side by side with another vehicle, caused [Bradley] to react. Further, Bradley stated that he looked over his shoulder to see if he could switch lanes. It caused him to lose valuable time. Were Tefft’s [Subaru] not in the position it was, [Bradley] would not have had to hesitate and look over his shoulders to see if he could switch lanes. And because Tefft’s [Subaru] was proceeding normally through traffic, we do not feel it was fortuitous that the object which prevented [Bradley] from avoiding the accident was a motor vehicle.
Bradley’s case is important in several respects. Bradley first tried to get his wife’s insurer to pay him the no-fault benefits he was entitled to receive, but it refused. Had Bradley relied on his wife’s insurer’s representation it had no obligation to pay him PIP benefits, Bradley would have lost valuable benefits. Bradley wisely sought help from an attorney who made sure he received all policy benefits he and his wife were entitled to under Michigan law. This case shows it is not always simple to show a motorcyclist’s accident was caused-at least in part-by a motor vehicle being used as a motor vehicle. In many situations, a motorcyclist may lose control and not have contact with an automobile because of some careless action by the driver of an automobile. The driver who caused the motorcyclist to lose control may not even realize what occurred and continue driving without stopping. Under that circumstance, the motorcyclist may be forced to prove a motor vehicle was involved in the accident without being able to identify the motor vehicle or the driver. It is even more important for the motorcyclist to consult an attorney who has extensive experience with motorcycle accident claims.
Once a motorcyclist establishes that an accident involved a motor vehicle, he or she is entitled to the same benefits under the no-fault act as an automobile driver. The injured motorcyclist is entitled to first-party PIP benefits, which include reimbursement for allowable expenses, work loss, and replacement services. A seriously injured motorcyclist has the right to sue the automobile driver who caused the injuries. This type of suit is commonly referred to as a third-party claim. With a third-party claim, the motorcyclist can obtain reimbursement for pain, suffering, disfigurement, and changes to the motorcyclist’s lifestyle (commonly referred to as non-economic losses) and for economic losses not covered by PIP benefits. The no-fault law determines the nature and extent of available reimbursement. If you wish to learn more about the no-fault law and how it might affect one’s ability to be reimbursed, see our article Automobile Accidents: Understanding Michigan’s Automobile No-Fault System.
Whether and to what extent you can recover reimbursement for losses suffered in a motorcycle accident is determined by how Michigan law applies to your accident. If the accident did not involve a motor vehicle, you likely have few options. If, however, your accident involved a motor vehicle, you may be entitled to significantly reimbursement. An insurance company-even your own-will do everything in their power to label your accident as one not involving a motor vehicle. In that way the insurance company avoids paying you what they owe; an insurer might also use delay and legal tactics to deprive you of the reimbursements you deserve. It is essential for anyone injured in a motorcycle accident, especially the seriously injured, to immediately seek help from a law firm such as Buchanan Firm PLC that handles motorcycle accident claims. Even a minor delay can cause you to lose the right to reimbursements and benefits.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident, please contact us today so we can help.
1 The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted these common problems in its 2013 Talking Points for motorcycle safety awareness month.
2 For a brief overview of Michigan’s automobile no-fault law, click HERE.
3 If you wish to read this law, it can be found at MCL 500.3101(1).
4 If you wish to read this law, it can be found at MCL 500.3101(2)(e).
5 If you wish to read this law, it can found at MCL 500.3105(1).
6 See MCL 500.3101(2)(d) (defining motorcycle accident to mean a “loss involving the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motorcycle as a motorcycle, but not involving the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle . . . .”).
7 See Underhill v Safeco Ins Co, 407 Mich 175, 188; 284 NW2d 463 (1979).
8 If you wish to read this law, it can be found at MCL 500.3103(1). The Legislature also required insurers to offer motorcyclists the opportunity to purchase first-party medical benefits, but even if a motorcyclist chooses to purchase this insurance, the coverage will apply only to the injured person’s medical expenses and, in the event of a serious accident, will likely be inadequate.
9 Shavers v Attorney General, 402 Mich 554, 633; 267 NW2d 72 (1978).
10 See MCL 500.3101(2)(f).
11 See Bradley v Detroit Automoblie Inter-Insurance Exchange, 130 Mich App 34; 343 NW2d 506 (1983).