The consequences of driving a car without auto no fault insurance in Michigan are exceptionally harsh. A recent case, released on January 29, 2008, illustrates just how severe these consequences will be.
The car accident occurred in Traverse City, Michigan. Mark Stallman was driving a car without automobile insurance. Another driver crossed over the center line of the road and collided head-on with his car. It is undisputed that the injuries Mr. Stallman suffered were severe, disabling and permanent. It is also undisputed that the driver who caused the car accident by crossing the center line was entirely at fault and that there was no comparative negligence on the part of Mr. Stallman. In other words, this man was completely innocent, did nothing wrong, and as a result of another person’s undisputed negligence, suffered catastrophic injuries that have left him permanently disabled. Yet Mr. Stallman, under Michigan no fault law, received nothing – not one dime for his injuries and pain and suffering. His case was dismissed by the trial court.
The lesson is clear: Michigan law does not allow a person, no matter how innocent or how seriously injured in a car accident, to bring a lawsuit for non-economic (pain and suffering) damages if they are driving a car without insurance and become involved in a car accident.
In dismissing Mr. Stallman’s case, the Grand Traverse Circuit Court judge relied on Stevenson v. Reese, 238 Mich App 513 (2000). In Stevenson, the Michigan Court of Appeals determined that MCL 500.3135(2)(c), the statute that punishes uninsured owners and operators of motor vehicles from collecting non-economic damages, does not violate the equal protection clause of the United States and Michigan Constitutions. Thus the Michigan law that punishes uninsured drivers and prevents them from being able to sue for injuries from car accidents is constitutional, as it is rationally related to a “legitimate government interest,” in this case, that Michigan citizens insure the vehicles they drive and Michigan maintains an affordable system of no fault automobile insurance.
In essence, Mr. Stallman’s lawyer argued that Michigan’s law is too harsh and too punitive. After all, tens of thousands of people drive cars without insurance in Michigan, and his client was permanently disabled due to someone else’s undisputed carelessness. His lawyer also argued that punishing Mr. Stallman for driving a car without insurance placed him in an unequal and unconstitutional position compared to other uninsured people who might be involved in the same type of car accident, such as an uninsured passenger in the vehicle or an uninsured pedestrian or a bicycle rider. In each of these cases, Michigan law would still allow the uninsured passenger, the pedestrian and the bicycle rider to sue for injuries they would have received in a car accident. The court rejected this argument, as Michigan law does not require passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists to maintain auto no fault insurance coverage.
The lesson is clear: you must insure your automobile. Statistically, people are involved in some type of motor vehicle accident every four to five years in Michigan. You will never know until it is too late if a person runs a red light and crashes into your car. The best thing you can do is insure your vehicle, and then make sure you purchase additional important insurance coverage such as uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
The case is Stallman v. Houchin, unpublished, No. 276138. LC 06-025522-NI.