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Michigan Supreme Court’s No Fault ruling denies wheelchair van for motorcycle accident victim

July 5, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

Majority misapplies its own rule to deny van for catastrophically injured auto accident victim in Admire v. Auto Owners

Michigan Supreme Court denies wheelchair van in Admire v. Auto Owners

The past 10 years have certainly left experienced No Fault lawyers increasingly puzzled by the “bizzaro” world that the Michigan Supreme Court seems to inhabit whenever it interprets Michigan’s No Fault Law.  Whether that be its own incredibly activist interpretation of a plain, unambiguous statutory definition of serious impairment in Kreiner, to the dreadful Cameron decision to Johnson v. Recca, the lawyers who practice in this area of law have largely adopted a “what’s next?” attitude while waiting for the next decision to come.

And here it is: the Court has found Kenneth Admire’s transportation “needs” are no different now than they were before the motorcycle-car crash which confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

The Supreme Court concluded in Admire v. Auto-Owners Insurance Company, that Mr. Admire is not entitled to collect No Fault insurance benefits from his No Fault insurer, Auto-Owners Insurance Company, to “pay the entire cost of a van modified to accommodate [Mr. Admire’s] wheelchair.”

Sure, Mr. Admire used to be able to walk and ride his motorcycle.

And now the only form of transportation he can use is “a van large enough for [him] to get in and out while remaining in his wheelchair.”

But according to the politically right-leaning and judicially activist minded justices in their latest opinion in Admire, nothing changed for Mr. Admire:

“While plaintiff’s choice of transportation before his injury might not have been a van, the essential character of [Mr. Admire’s] preinjury need for transportation has not changed.”

*    *    *

“The character of plaintiff’s general need for transportation … did not change as a result of the accident. … [P]laintiff only requires some form of transportation for his care, not any particular form …”

*    *    *

Feel like you’ve been dropped into The Twilight Zone? Welcome to my world as a practicing No Fault lawyer in Michigan for the past decade.

Before the crash, Mr. Admire didn’t “need” any “particular form” of transportation. He chose to ride his motorcycle. But, because he was physically uninjured and healthy, he could have chosen any of several other forms of transportation: driving a car or a truck; riding a bicycle; or even walking.

But now, as a result of the “catastrophic injuries” [Court’s description, not mine] he suffered in the motorcycle-car crash, Mr. Admire DOES require a very “particular form” of transportation: “a van large enough for [him] to get in and out while remaining in his wheelchair.”

Indeed, as Justice Michael F. Cavanagh notes in footnote 7 of his dissent, Mr. Admire’s No Fault insurer, Auto-Owners, admitted as much in its pleadings in the trial court when it stated that Mr. Admire “‘has required and currently requires a modified van that accommodates his wheelchair …’”

The kicker is that by denying the reality of Mr. Admire’s condition the Supreme Court’s right-leaning majority  has let Auto-Owners Insurance Company off the hook for something the auto insurer had done willingly and without legal objection three times before.

After Mr. Admire’s 1987 motorcycle-car crash, Auto-Owners purchased vans (which were modified to accommodate Mr. Admire’s wheelchair) for him in 1988, 1994 and 2000.

Among the legion of horrible No Fault rulings by the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in this state from 1995 to now, this one occupies a  place near the top. It’s just a sad perversion of the way the No Fault law has always been construed and interpreted in this state.

Not only is it illogical and its conclusions counter-factual, but it’s offensive to Mr. Admire and all auto accident victims whose have suffered catastrophic injuries.

Related information:

Michigan motorcycle accident law FAQs

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