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Connection Between Accident and Injury Was "Too Attenuated" for No-Fault

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Joseph E. Kozely
Foster Swift No-Fault E-News
April 25, 2013

A motorcyclist's spinal cord injury following a crash caused by a seizure did not arise out of the motor vehicle accident that originally caused the seizure disorder.  The Michigan Supreme Court held that the connection between the auto accident and the spinal cord injury was "too attenuated" for no-fault, and reversed the lower courts' decisions denying summary disposition to the defense. McPherson v McPherson, No. 144666 (April 11, 2013).

McPherson was injured in a 2007 automobile accident. He developed a seizure disorder that his doctors attributed to the 2007 accident. In 2008, he suffered a seizure while driving his motorcycle, and sustained spinal cord injuries and paraplegia from the resulting crash. When his no-fault insurer denied coverage, McPherson sued. The trial court denied the insurer's motion for summary disposition, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished decision.

The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the lower courts and granted summary disposition to the insurer. The Court explained that an insurer is liable to pay benefits for accidental bodily injury only if those injuries "arise out of" or are caused by "the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle . . . ." But not just any bodily injury triggers an insurer's liability under the no-fault act. Rather it is only those injuries that are caused by the insured's use of a motor vehicle. The Court continued:

Regarding the degree of causation between the injury and the use of a motor vehicle that must be shown, this Court has established that an injury arises out of the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle when "the causal connection between the injury and the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle is more than incidental, fortuitous, or 'but for.'" Thornton v Allstate Ins Co, 425 Mich 643, 659 (1986).

In this case, the causal connection between the 2008 spinal cord injury and the 2007 accident is insufficient to satisfy the "arising out of" requirement of MCL 500.3105(1). Plaintiff did not injure his spinal cord while using the vehicle in 2007.  Rather he injured it in the 2008 motorcycle crash, which was caused by his seizure, which was caused by his neurological disorder, which was caused by his use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle in 2007.  Under these circumstances, we believe that the 2008 injury is simply too remote and too attenuated from the earlier use of a motor vehicle . . . .

Slip Opinion, pp. 3-4.

Justice Cavanaugh dissented, arguing that the 2008 injuries were the "inextricable result" of the seizure disorder. The majority disagreed: "[H]ad plaintiff been in bed or on the couch when he had the seizure, the 'inextricable' injury would not have occurred."

This case is important because it suggests that the pendulum swing toward increasingly attenuated connections between accidents and injuries might be moving back toward the center position.