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Children get run over by Michigan Supreme Court

A senseless and sad ruling from the state’s Republican majority

Child auto accident victims are the latest casualties of the Michigan Supreme Court. This one will effect children injured in auto accidents and the rights of these children to recover Michigan No-Fault benefits.

In an opinion dominated by the court’s conservative Republican wing, the court’s right-leaning justices ruled that even though child accident victims have until they are 19 to sue for overdue No-Fault benefits, they can only recover for one year’s worth of these overdue No-Fault PIP benefits.

The ruling marks the conservative Republicans’ second gutting of a nearly 30-year-old right created to protect the No-Fault rights of society’s most vulnerable citizens: children.

In 1982, Michigan courts recognized that a child auto accident victim had until his 19th birthday to sue and recover for all overdue No-Fault benefits.

That rule remained the law in Michigan for more than 30 years until, in 2006, a conservative Republican majority of justices tossed it out.

The 2006 ruling in Cameron v. Auto Club Insurance Association, which would save Michigan auto insurance companies millions of dollars, relied on a disingenuous game of semantics to strip child auto accident victims of their long-standing rights.

Whereas Michigan law allowed child victims until 19 to sue for overdue No-Fault benefits, Michigan’s No- Fault law limited recovery in such a lawsuit to only those benefits accrued in the year before the lawsuit was filed, the Cameron majority concluded.

In other words, child auto accident victims were free to sue until they were 19, but they could not recover for any benefits that became overdue before they turned 18.

Despite his ultimate decision to cast a vote with his conservative Republican colleagues, which would greatly benefit the bottom-line of Michigan auto insurance companies, Justice Stephen J. Markman recognized in his concurring opinion the absurdity of allowing a child auto accident victim the right to sue but denying him the right to recover:

“I am concerned that as a consequence of this decision, the protections afforded by the tolling provision [allowing a child victim until his 19th birthday to sue] may become increasingly illusory. … [A]lthough the tolling provision instructs minors … that they are entitled to wait until one year after their legal disabilities have been removed to bring their civil actions, if they do wait, they will only be allowed to recover what may be a portion of the total damages incurred.”

* * *

“I am concerned that … minors [who are injured in auto accidents “in which others are also injured”] … as a consequence of this decision … are likely to be undercompensated for equivalent medical expenses compared to other persons.”

* * *

“I am concerned that as a consequence of this decision … minors [who are injured in auto accidents] … will not necessarily be made whole … [by being] limited to only one year’s worth of compensation.”

* * *

“[T]he Court’s hold in this case maintains a law within our state that is contrary to that which seems to me most rational, and … I have doubts concerning whether individual members of the 71st Legislature genuinely had in mind this law …”

* * *

“I am inclined to believe that the principal purpose of the minority … tolling provision is to afford minors … an opportunity to be made litigatively whole once their disabilities have been removed.”

* * *

The 2008 election temporarily ended the conservative Republicans’ reign and dominance of the Michigan Supreme Court, paving the way for the 2010 opinion in University of Michigan Regents v. Titan Insurance Company which overruled Cameron and restored the law of the previous three decades.

Notably, Justice Markman, in joining his conservative colleagues in their Regents dissent, was conspicuously less concerned with the consequences of the Cameron rule as he had been four years prior.

Nevertheless, along came the 2010 election, which again turned the tables, thereby allowing the conservative Republicans to retake the Supreme Court.

As such, on May 15, 2012, the newly constituted majority of right-leaning justices handed down Joseph v. Auto Club Insurance Association, which overruled Regents and reinstated Cameron.

The justices in Joseph reiterated their previous position from Cameron that, because a child victim’s right to sue for overdue No Fault is different from his right to recover for those overdue No-Fault benefits, the former can be recognized while the latter can be denied.

As such, it is neither “absurd” nor does it “def[y] common sense” to “‘grant a minor … person the right to prove his or her damages in a court of law while lacking any opportunity to be awarded them …,'” the conservative Republican justices concluded.

Even a child can see how absurd and nonsensical that is.

Steve Gursten is a Michigan insurance attorney. He frequently writes and speaks about Michigan No-Fault and auto insurance, and is available for comment.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Pink Sherbet Photography

Related information:

National Youth Traffic Safety Month

Michigan Court of Appeals lets insurance company out of paying benefits to brain injured 10-month-old

Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights. Call (800) 777-0028 to speak with one of our Michigan insurance attorneys.

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