Court rules deceased victim’s ‘old-age Social Security benefits’ were ‘tangible things of economic value’ and, thus, compensable to victims’ dependents
Karen Scugoza tragically lost her husband in a fatal car accident in Branch County.
Her husband’s auto insurance company thought she should also lose the right to collect No Fault “Survivor’s Loss” benefits as compensation for the loss of her husband’s old-age social security benefits.
Luckily for Ms. Scugoza – and for everyone who’s dependent on a loved one whose life is taken in a Michigan car crash – the Michigan Court of Appeals didn’t share the auto insurer’s cold-hearted view.
In Scugoza v. Metropolitan Direct Property and Casualty Insurance Company, a unanimous, three-judge Court of Appeals panel ruled that Ms. Scugoza was entitled to be paid for her husband’s social security benefits as part of her No Fault survivor’s loss benefits:
“[O]ld-age social security benefits payable pursuant to 42 USC 402 are “tangible things of economic value” as that term is used in MCL 500.3108(1) and therefore can be considered in a calculation of survivor’s loss benefits under the no-fault act. … [W]e conclude that the plain language of MCL 500.3108(1) [the No Fault survivor’s loss statute] encompasses old-age social security benefits …”
This is a very important ruling for the families and loved ones of people who have been tragically killed in a car, truck or motorcycle crash.
In my 20 years of legal practice as an attorney, I’ve seen far too many times the terrible aftermath of a disastrous collision that ends a person’s life.
Not only are the family members and loved ones who are left behind is mourning over their loss, but they’re frequently lost as to how to carry on with their lives now that the person whom they’ve depended on is gone.
In addition to the compensation that can be obtained through a wrongful death lawsuit, the help and support that comes through No Fault survivor’s loss benefits is essential for people in their quest to try to rebuild their lives.
Legislative history for ‘survivor’s loss’ benefits
The Court of Appeals rejected Metropolitan Direct Property and Casualty Insurance Company’s argument that “the legislative history of MCL 500.3108(1) demonstrates that old-age social security benefits are not compensable under MCL 500.3108(1)”:
“[W]e find that the legislative history of MCL 500.3108 supports our conclusion … we do not find any restrictions on what is compensable under MCL 500.3108(1) as survivors’ loss benefits—at least not with regard to what is sought in the instant case—from any references to wrongful death actions in MCL 500.3108’s legislative history.”
Survivor’s loss not limited to ‘employment-related’ benefits
Similarly, the Court rejected Metropolitan Direct Property and Casualty Insurance Company’s argument that “old-age social security benefits should not be included as survivors’ loss benefits because they are not employment-related; rather, they are government benefits”:
“[T]here is no language in MCL 500.3108(1) indicating that the Legislature intended to limit survivors’ loss benefits to benefits provided only by employers … [T]his Court has held that even things of tangible value without any relation whatsoever to employment may be compensable under MCL 500.3108(1).”
Michigan No Fault ‘Survivor’s Loss’ benefits
Under Michigan’s No Fault auto insurance law, the “dependents” of a car accident victim who has passed away are entitled to “survivor’s loss” benefits which include compensation for “tangible things of economic value” that the car victim would have provided to the dependents had the victim not succumbed to fatal injuries resulting from a Michigan car crash. (See MCL 500.3108(1)))
To learn more, please check out Michigan Auto Law’s “Survivors’ loss benefits – after a wrongful death car accident in Michigan.”