Quadraplegiac gets a new van under no fault rules.
Neil Begin was rendered a quadraplegiac in a motor vehicle collision while he worked for Michigan Bell Telephone. Bell is self-insured for no fault and workers compensation. It argued that since Begin drove a van before his injuries, it should not be required to provide him with a replacement van after his wore out; it relied upon the Engler majority's decision in the Griffith v. State Farm case, where the Court ruled that the no fault insurer was not required to compensate a seriously-injured accident victim for necessities that non-injured persons also require.
Griffith involved a badly head-injured victim whose family claimed that his diet should be a covered expense at home, since it was covered during periods of institutionalization. The Engler Majority refined the definition of "reasonable and necessary" expenses to indicate that where diet was limited in an institution, the insurer must reimburse it, but that where diet was not limited outside the institution, the need to eat was not "caused" by the motor vehicle collision: only a special diet incurred because of the motor vehicle collision would be covered.
Bell attempted to push this decision one step farther and draw a "bright-line" rule at the time of the collision. Bell argued that if you drove a van before, the insurer was off the hook for buying a new one or replacing it, even though the van is essential for a quadraplegiac to obtain medical care, travel outside county transportation services or to travel at times when such services are either unavailable or inadequate.
The Court rejected Bell's argument, noting that Griffith did not hold that because a man wore shoes before he was injured, he would not be able to charge for medically-necessary orthotic shoes after an injury. The Court pointed to the fact that in Griffith, in particular, even the majority alluded to the responsibility of the insurer to pay the full cost of institutional food, and not merely the added cost of the food when compared to a home diet.
The Court upheld the dismissal of a second action brought by Begin, however, because the allegations in that complaint could have been joined, and should have been joined, in the initial PIP action he brought. Even though his claims for attendant care and for intentional infliction of emotional distress were not litigated in the van case, they arose from the same transaction and Begin owed a responsibility to join these related claims together.
The Court also addressed the elements of a claim for invasion of privacy-trespass under Michigan law. Begin had challenged the dissemination of his employment record information to Bell's PIP Benefits agent and had also objected to its surveillance of his activities and investigation of his financial situaiton. The Court ruled that Bell had obtained the personnel file through its status as an employer, which was not an objectionable method, and that it had a right to investigate a party asserting a liability claim against it. The Court did not attempt to define the limits of the latter right.