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Court slaps down Farm Bureau's "totally unfounded position" regarding ORV

In another example of "boys being boys" resulting in tragedy, three young men near Port Huron suffered a collision while attempting to assess the top speed of a dirt bike.  They were operating the bike, a re-built 4-wheel ORV, and a pick-up on the highway in tandem when the boy on the bike lost control, contacted the ORV, and was runover by the pickup.  The succeeding battle over who should pay the badly injured bike-operator's medical expenses became Schultz v. Blue Cross-Blue Shield.

Nationwide, the insurer of the Schultz boy's parents, met its legal obligation and stepped in to pay PIP benefits even though it believed that both Farm Bureau and Progressive Insurance stood higher in priority and should be responsible.  Nationwide sued these carriers to compel them to fulfill their statutory obligation.   Farm Bureau, the insurer for the owner of the ORV, argued that since its vehicle (as an ORV not designed for operation on the road) was exempt from the No Fault act, it was not a "motor vehicle  involved in the collision" rendering its operator's No Fault coverage responsible for PIP benefits.  The Court noted that under several prior decisions, Michigan Courts have ruled that ORV exemption and No Fault duties are not mutually exclusive:  since this was a 4-wheeled vehicle being operated on the road, it triggered the No Fault Act's priority provisions, even though the vehicle was exempt from the duty to maintain No Fault coverage.  The court found Farm Bureau's attempts to quibble with these prior holdings both disingenuous and unpersuasive. 

The Court went on to criticize Farm Bureau for arguing that it had a valid exclusion from coverage, based on Farm Bureau's claim that the ORV operator had "stolen" the ORV from his grandmother's farm.  The Court documented the actual evidence elicited on that point before characterizing Farm Bureau's theft argument as a "totally unfounded position."  Regretfully, it did not sanction Farm Bureau for making the frivolous argument.

The Court went on to address Progressive's claims that its insured pickup was not "involved" in the collision and that Schultz was not eligible for PIP benefits because he was operating an uninsured bike.  The evidence showed that Progressive's operator admitted running over Schultz--before he denied it--and that there were pickup tire tread marks on Schultz's jacket:  the court summarily rejected the argument of non-involvement.  With regard to the eligibility for PIP benefits, since the dirt bike was an ORV ("not designed or equipped for use on a public road") it was exempt from the insurance requirements of the No Fault Act by legislative design and multiple prior rulings of Michigan Courts.  Thus, both of Progressive's specious arguments were also dismissed.

The only slightly encouraging thing about this case is the Nationwide adjuster's decision to step to the window--as required by law--and take on the duty of paying PIP benefits while holding the higher priority insurers accountable.  If you are ever tempted to believe that you can count on being in the "good hands" of your insurer when there is a large claim at stake, think about Farm Bureau's "totally unfounded position" in this case.


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