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Should Motorized Scooters Carry Automobile Insurance?

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.