May 26, 2022
In a recent, unpublished decision, Jones et al v Anderson et al (Unpub COA No. 356577, 05/12/22), the Court analyzed priority.
This no-fault case arose from an accident in which Defendant, Anderson (uninsured) clipped driver, Elijah Trudell (insured with GEICO), and subsequently struck pedestrian Plaintiff, Anderson (uninsured). The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that MACP assigned, Nationwide, was higher in priority than Trudell’s insurer, GEICO.
As Jones was uninsured, she filed a claim for PIP benefits with MACP who then assigned Nationwide. Jones filed her Complaint against Nationwide, who in turn, filed a third-party Complaint against GEICO, alleging that GEICO was higher in order of priority than Nationwide because Trudell’s vehicle was “involved in the accident”.
Generally a plaintiff seeks benefits from her own no-fault insurer first (MCL 500.3114(1)). If she does not have her own insurance and was not the occupant of a vehicle, she can seek no-fault benefits from the insurer(s) of the owners, registrants, or operators of the motor vehicles “involved in the accident” (MCL 500.3115(1)). If those options are inapplicable, claimant can seek benefits through MACP (MCL 500.3127(1)) who is considered the “last in the order of priority”, Farmers v Farm Bureau, 272 Mich App 106 (2006).
The sole issue addressed by the Court here is whether Trudell’s vehicle was “involved in the accident” such that GEICO would be liable under MCL 500.3115(1). Turner v Auto Club, 448 Mich 22 (1995) gives the following guidance on this question (albeit as to a different section): “the motor vehicle, must actively, as opposed to passively, contribute to the accident”, and stated differently, “there must be some activity by the motor vehicle that contributes to the happening of the accident beyond its mere presence” Detroit Med Cntr v Progressive, 302 Mich App 392 (2013). The Court noted that Trudell’s vehicle was stopped for only 10 seconds waiting to turn before being struck by Anderson’s vehicle, and Trudell’s vehicle made no contact with Plaintiff, Jones. Nationwide pointed to no evidence that Trudell’s vehicle did anything to contribute to the accident, and because it was “not moving and was otherwise inactive,” the Court found that it was thus not “involved in the accident” “because it did nothing that actively contributed to the happening of the accident beyond its mere presence”.
The Court also rejected Nationwide’s argument that Trudell’s vehicle was involved in the accident by influencing the direction of travel of Anderson’s vehicle, before the subsequent striking of Jones. The Court distinguished this matter from a multi-car pile-up accident in which the cars were found to be “involved in the accident” because they engaged in actions: they rapidly decelerated, causing other cars to strike them, thus effecting their directions of travel and participating in the accident. Trudell, in contrast, did nothing but instead was stopped waiting to turn for several seconds prior to the collision.
The Court found a car cannot be considered to be “involved in an accident” when it is a passive, non-moving participant, and that vehicle’s insurer will then not be highest in priority in that circumstance. The Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the trial court granting GEICO’s motion for summary disposition.