August 20, 2019
The Court of Appeals recently had the opportunity to revisit the common question of what it means for a person’s injuries to arise “out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle” under the no-fault act in a tragic case where two all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) speeding down a residential street collided with each other, allegedly causing catastrophic injuries to the ejected drivers of the ATVs.
The estates of the ejected drivers (one driver passed away after the accident; the other driver’s claim was brought by his bankruptcy trustee) sought to recover PIP benefits in Vawters v Auto Club Ins Ass’n. Although it is settled law that ATVs are not “motor vehicles” within the meaning of the no-fault act, the plaintiffs claimed that the accident nonetheless arose out of the operation of a motor vehicle (thereby entitling them to PIP benefits under the act) based on an allegation that a Jeep backing out of a driveway nearly 300 feet away forced the drivers to take evasive action; this evasive action, they said, caused the crash that caused the injuries.
ACIA insured the Jeep driven by its insured, Beryl Ann Fletcher. Ms. Fletcher was beginning to back her Jeep out of one of the street’s residential driveways when she saw the ATVs approaching “probably a football field away,” and decided to stop and let them pass. She testified her Jeep was protruding into the street “just a tad bit” when she stopped the car, but other evidence suggested the Jeep may have been all the way into the street when the ATVs crashed. It was undisputed that the ATVs were traveling at a rate of approximately 45-50 miles an hour in a 25 mile per hour speed zone, and that the operators were driving the ATVs on a residential street in violation of a city ordinance.
There were no eyewitnesses to the crash, and the surviving driver, Kodi Vawters, testified at deposition that he had no memory of the day of the accident or of speaking to anyone about the accident. However, Mr. Vawters had, in fact, given a statement to a detective the day after the accident, where he claimed that he and the other driver, Deandre Davis, were traveling side-by-side, saw a vehicle backing out of a driveway, slammed on their brakes, and that the tires of the ATVs then “slapped” each other. After that, Mr. Davis’ ATV veered to the left, struck a parked car and ejected Mr. Davis, and then, now driverless, careened onward into Mr. Vawters’ ATV, causing Mr. Vawters to also be ejected. Plaintiffs’ and defendant’s experts agreed that the ATVs’ speed contributed to the crash, but reached differing conclusions about the necessity of the drivers’ alleged corrective actions of slamming on their brakes rather than gradually slowing down and/or going around the Jeep.
The Court of Appeals held that issues of fact existed regarding whether the drivers’ injuries arose out of the use of a motor vehicle because there were questions concerning whether there was an actual need for the drivers to take evasive action by hitting the brakes of their ATVs in response to the movement of the Jeep. In so holding, the Court refused to follow its prior, published (and therefore binding) decision in Detroit Med Ctr v Progressive Mich Ins Co, where it found summary disposition in favor of a no-fault insurer was appropriate after the headlights of the insured vehicle, traveling down a dark roadway, “startled” a speeding motorcyclist, who then overreacted, lost control, and crashed. Instead, the Court deemed the two cases “somewhat distinguishable” because there was no evidence in Detroit Med Ctr that the vehicle ever entered the motorcyclist’s lane of travel. Here, the Court said, there was some evidence that the Jeep “was an actual obstruction that needed to be avoided one way or the other.” Therefore, it concluded that in this case, the trial court properly denied summary disposition to ACIA.
 Unpublished opinion per curiam of the Michigan Court of Appeals, decided Aug 8, 2019 (Docket No 342805), available at:
 302 Mich App 392 (2013).
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