There is a
personal injury case pending in Michigan where the insurance company lawyers representing
a driver who struck and seriously injured a man riding a motorized scooter
is arguing that the case should be dismissed because the scooter did not
carry automobile insurance. The insurance company lawyers are arguing
that the scooter has four wheels, a motor, and was operated on a publid
road and, as a result, it is covered by the law requiring motor vehicles
to carry automobile insurance. The case involves an issue specific to
Michigan law, but also raises a general issue about motorized scooters,
insurance, and personal injury cases.
First, Michigan has a law that prevents someone from operating a motor
vehicle without insurance from bringing a claim for personal injuries
against a negligent driver. In the pending case, a disabled man riding
a scooter on a public road was struck by a vehicle and suffered serious
bodily injuries. The insurance company attorneys for the potentially responsible
driver have argued that the man using the scooter should be considered
a motor vehicle and barred from bringing suit because he had no insurance.
They argued that his vehicle was operated by a motor, had 4 wheels, and
was on a public road. The irony is that Michigan insurers do not now offer
insurance to motor scooters, so this would allow insurance companies to
avoid paying claims to users of scooters without insurance and also increase
their business by beginning to write insurance policies to those users
who are required to purchase insurance.
One big issue in Michigan is that the majority of users of scooters are
disabled and/or elderly who may not be able to afford insurance for their
scooter. Thus, they would be prevented from using a scooter or, if they
choose to do so without insurance, would be doing so at their own risk
– they would be incapable of bringing a personal injuury claim and
being reimbursed by anyone who injured them negligently.
The second, more general, issue is whether scooters should be considered
motor vehicles and be required to have insurance even in states with different
laws. In many other states, you can bring a personal injury claim for
damages against another driver even if you do not have automobile insurance.
However, if you negligently cause injuries and do not carry automobile
insurance yourself, you may be personally responsible for any personal
injury damages the other driver suffered. Nevertheless, if states with
these different rules also rule that motorized scooters are motor vehicles,
then users of motorized vehicles will be required to have insurance and
will violate the law if they operate a scooter without any automobile
insurance. They will also be subject to tickets, citations and fines for
not doing so, even if they can still bring a personal injury case.
This will not be an easy legal issue for the Michigan court to decide.
It will turn on whether the Michigan legislature intended the definition
of “motor vehicle” in the law requiring automobile insurance
to include a motorized scooter, in addition to an automobile or motorcycle.
The court will analyze the legislative history to determine the specific
purpose of the law and the problem it sought to remedy. On one hand, using
the public roads with a motorized vehicle presents many of the same risks
of accidents and personal injuries whether the vehicle is a scooter or
car. On the other hand, cars and motorcycles are capable of doing more
damage and causing more significant personal injuries due to their larger
sizes and faster speeds. Overall, it would be surprising for the court
to rule that the legislature intended to include motorized scooters in
the definition of motor vehicles. Instead, the court will likely rule
that requiring automobile insurance for scooters is significant change
in law that the legislature and not the court should make. However, one
can never tell for sure how the court will decide.