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Children and time limits on suit

     Ever since the hand-appointed Engler Justices took control of the Supreme Court,  the four Justices have controlled Michigan jurisprudence and displayed an activist drive to manipulate the law for the benefit of their insurance constituency.  One of the Justices was even reported to have made a speech where he described he and his colleagues as allied with insurance tort "reformers" in a civil war with victims' attorneys.  As a result, insurance companies have become more aggressive in attempting to restrict the rights and interests of their insureds.  In the recent Klida v. Braman case, the Court of Appeals refused to countenance an effort by Farm Bureau to eliminate a child's right to sue.

  The plaintiff in Klida was 15 years old when she was injured in a car accident.  Her parents never filed an action to recover for her injuries, so after turning 18, at which time she could sue for herself, she filed a claim against the at-fault and her own insurance company (under the underinsured motorist provision of the policy).  The lawsuit claimed that her injuries were so serious that the at-fault's coverage was not adequate to compensate her, bringing Farm Bureau's promise to pay compensation in to play.

    Farm Bureau immediately asked the Trial Court to dismiss Klida's claim on the basis of an insurance clause that purported to require insureds to sue within one year.  The one-year limit in the contract directly contradicts Michigan Revised Judicature Act, which gives a minor who brings suit "under this act" one year to sue after reaching age 18, regardless of how many years have elapsed since the injury.  This statutory relief for minors is called "tolling", assuring persons who cannot legally sue for a time period (in this case the 18 years of minority status) one year in which to take legal action after reaching adulthood.  It has been the law in Michigan, and in most jurisdictions, for many decades.

     A few years ago, however, the Engler Justices interpreted the language of the RJA that allowed tolling for children to be inapplicable to NoFault claims. Despite language in the Preamble  to the RJA in which the Michigan Legislature stated that the act was "to revise and consolidate statutes relating to the ...jurisdiction of the courts of this state, the powers and duties of the courts...and the time within which civil actions and proceedings may be brought in such courts...", the Supreme Court held that the RJA didn't apply to a child's statutory no fault claim.  In the so-called Cameron cases, the Supreme Court excluded the provisions of the no fault statute from the operation of the RJA.

     Farm Bureau, which has been very aggressive in attempting to expand insurers' prerogatives [and to contract insureds' rights] under the Engler Justices, sought to apply the Cameron rulings to similarly limit a minor's right to sue for extra-no fault [non-mandatory] Underinsured Motorist Coverage.  The Court of Appeals, after an extensive and thoughtful analysis, rejected Farm Bureau's effort.  It noted that preserving a child's right to make a claim for one year after reaching the age of majority has been recognized as an "important and long-standing public policy that is 'clearly rooted in the law' ". 

   It was pleasant to read an opinion that did not simply rationalize a far-fetched argument, in order to serve the interests of the insurance industry.  In past decades, a litigant who claimed that the litigation rights and definitions contained in the no fault statute were not subject to the RJA would have been laughed out of court.  Today, all too often, this kind of result-oriented activist argument often receives the imprimatur of several Supreme Court Justices, regardless of the underlying historical or public policy considerations.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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