DTE Electric cannot amend to join proper insurer in action for property damage
Michigan's no fault scheme eliminates the right to sue a motorist directly for property damage caused by a negligent driver, and instead requires the victim of damage caused by a motorist to sue the insurer of the vehicle involved. This action must be filed within one year of the damage being incurred.
DTE ran afoul of this rule when it attempted to sue over downed power lines caused by a cement truck. DTE relied on inaccurate information in suing the truck operator and an insurer identified as "JDIC," despite a Fire Department report that identified the truck's insurer as "EMC Ins Co" and an incident report that identified the insurer as "EMC Ins" and listed a policy number. DTE attempted to amend its complaint to name the insurer properly, however, it did not seek the amendment within one year of the incident.
Without regard to whether the insurer was fully aware of the occurrence or prejudiced by the mis-naming, the Court applied current Michigan Supreme Court rules to deny DTE the right to amend its complaint and name the proper insurer. Because of confusion over the proper name of the defendant insurer, DTE must bear the cost of the damage to its power lines, rather than the insurer who was paid to bear that risk.
Sadly, the same situation occurs with regard to individual victims on a regular basis under the current Michigan Supreme Court's policy of refusing to recognize claims that are a day late or lacking in some minor requirement, regardless of prejudice or substantial compliance. It is a triumph of process over justice, and it works primarily to the disadvantage of unsophisticated people who lack resources or the urge to litigate.