27th Mar 2017

Race Car Crash raises tough no-fault questions
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High speed racing may be one of the most dangerous things a person can do in a car crash. But is a race car crash covered under a person’s no-fault insurance? A recent Michigan Court of Appeals case raises this and other issues.

Schrage v MIC General Insurance Corpwhich was released unpublished in March 2017, shows how unique some no-fault cases can be. George Schrage was severely injured, and eventually died, after a racecar plowed into him as he was being pulled into a parked pickup truck near the track. He was working on a volunteer team maintaining the race track at the time of the crash.

Schrage’s case raises several uncommon and interesting details about the Michigan No-Fault Act.

Race Car Injuries Aren’t Covered by No-Fault Benefits

The first interesting part of the Schrage case is one everyone agreed on: the racecar that hit George Schrage was not a motor vehicle. For the purposes of the Michigan No-Fault Act, a vehicle only counts as a motor vehicle if it is registered or designed for use on public roads. This restriction allows the drivers of recreational vehicles to avoid the cost and hassle of registering and insuring their ATVs, dune buggies, and other off-road vehicles. Because race cars are only designed for use on private tracks, the parties agreed that Schrage was not entitled to no-fault benefits because of the race car.

Parked Cars Are Only Covered In Certain Circumstances

With no-fault benefits from race car off the table, Schrage’s estate administrator turned to the parked pick-up truck. This is where the conflict arose. MCL 500.3106 applies to no-fault claims involving parked vehicles. It says in part:

(1) Accidental bodily injury does not arise out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a parked vehicle as a motor vehicle unless any of the following occur:

(a) The vehicle was parked in such a way as to cause unreasonable risk of the bodily injury which occurred.

(b) Except as provided in subsection (2), the injury was a direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle, while the equipment was being operated or used, or property being lifted onto or lowered from the vehicle in the loading or unloading process.

(c) Except as provided in subsection (2), the injury was sustained by a person while occupying, entering into, or alighting from the vehicle.

Schrage and the volunteer team were responsible to clean up the track, extinguish any fires, and rescue drivers involved in race car crashes. They used the pick-up truck to transport themselves and their equipment from place to place along the track. At the time of the crash, the pickup was parked and Schrage was in the process of retrieving a broom from the bed. When his team saw the racecar coming toward him they tried to pull him up into the bed.

Is Involuntary Entry Covered Under the No-Fault Act?

The question for the court was whether Schrage was “entering into, or alighting” from the vehicle when he was hit. Schrage testified that he first knew something was “going wrong” when “[t]he two guys of the truck tried to reach over and pull me into the bed.” The court said:

“In other words, while Schrage did not have the subjective intent to enter the pickup, a reasonable factfinder could conclude from the evidence that Schrage’s companions were attempting to pull him unto the bed of the pickup when the accident occurred; consequently, there is a genuine issue of material fact whether Schrage was, in fact, ‘entering into . . . the vehicle.'”

There was no question, according to the court, that the truck was being used as a motor vehicle “since they would drive the truck from place to place in a dangerous situation while while performing their duties of track repair and emergency response.” If the jury found that being pulled into a vehicle counts as “entry,” the court said his injury would have a causal relationship to the parked car that was “more than incidental, fortuitous, or but for.”

Representing Clients in Unusual No-Fault Cases

The Michigan No-Fault Act is designed to make sure anyone involved in a car crash doesn’t have to worry about medical bills. Most cases involve cars, trucks, and SUVs on the highway. But Shrage demonstrates that no-fault injuries don’t always fit in neat packages. Sometimes, auto accident attorneys need to get creative to find benefits for their injured clients. Just because a case is unusual doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to use the no-fault act to your client’s advantage. Be sure to investigate every vehicle involved in the case to find benefits that may otherwise go untapped.

David Christensen is an auto accident attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He has over 25 years of experience working with the Michigan No-Fault Act. If your client has an unusual no-fault issue, contact Christensen Law for a referral today.

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