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Michigan motorcycle accident victim is allowed UIM from her auto insurance policy

July 7, 2011 by Steven M. Gursten

Motorcycle accident attorney discusses new Michigan Court of Appeals opinion awarding UIM to injured motorcyclist after crash with uninsured driver

I want to share an important recent motorcycle accident case from the Michigan Court of Appeals. A motorcycle accident victim was able to collect underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) coverage for her motorcycle, despite not specifically purchasing UIM for her motorcycle.

I wonder how many Michigan lawyers with serious motorcycle accident cases are completely unaware of this case, and how many are telling seriously injured motorcycle accident victims that they have no case – even now?

Here’s what happened in Wellman v. McCullough and Homeowners:

The plaintiff was driving her motorcycle on the highway when the defendant was driving his car along a private drive that intersected the highway. The defendant allegedly turned onto the highway without notice and without yielding to the plaintiff, causing them to collide.

The plaintiff had a policy with her insurer, Homeowners, that provided No-Fault insurance for both her Jeep and her motorcycle. However, she only purchased UIM coverage on her Jeep.

Homeowners refused the plaintiff’s request to pay her UIM benefits under the policy. So the plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence and the Homeowners for breaching the insurance contract.

The insurance company’s argument in the motorcycle accident case

Homeowners Insurance Company argued on appeal that the trial court made a mistake in determining that the definition of the term “automobile” in the insurance policy was ambiguous. The insurer contended that since the term automobile plainly included the motorcycle, the trial court should have ruled that the exclusion for automobiles — that were not covered by the UIM coverage — applied to the motorcycle and barred plaintiff’s UIM claim as a matter of law.

However, the Michigan Court of Appeals concluded that the policy was equally susceptible to two interpretations and thus, the trial court did not get it wrong in determining that the provision was ambiguous.

In fact, the Court of Appeals went as far as to say the trial court should have first construed the insurance contract in favor of UIM coverage for the plaintiff.

Here’s the full text opinion: Wellman v. McCullough and Homeowners.

The important lesson from this motorcycle lawsuit for motorcycle accident attorneys

Michigan’s motorcycle accident lawsuits can be tricky, because our No-Fault Act does not consider motorcycles as “motor vehicles.” Because of this, motorcycle accident cases are treated differently than car and truck accident cases, and bikers have often had their insurance rights stripped away in court.

But the lesson from this important motorcycle accident case for any lawyer – whether in Michigan or any other state – who has a seriously injured client from a motorcycle accident is READ THE INSURANCE POLICY CAREFULLY. Ambiguously defined terms and unclear or nonspecific language, such as the definition of an “automobile” can provide insurance in cases that might appear as if you have no opportunity to help someone.

Steven M. Gursten heads Michigan Auto Law. He received the highest motorcycle accident settlement in Michigan last year, according to Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He is recognized as one of the nation’s top motorcycle attorneys. Steve has spoken at trial seminars on motorcycle lawsuits, and is available for comment.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Aaron J Photography

Related information to protect yourself:

Michigan motorcycle accident law FAQs

What insurance is required for Michigan motorcyclists?

I was in a motorcycle accident in Michigan. How do I get No-Fault benefits?

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 to better serve you. Call (248) 353-7575 for a free consultation with one of our motorcycle accident attorneys.

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