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Farm Bureau Insurance Company's "Helmetless Motorcyclist" Defense is Rejected by Court of Appeals

According to the Michigan Court of Appeals, an uninsured motorcycle rider who was not wearing a helmet at the time of his deadly crash was not excluded from recovering no-fault insurance benefits. This decision came as a result of Estate of Swick v Farm Bureau Insurance Company.

The Case

The motorcyclist suffered fatal injuries when the motorcycle he was riding collided with a car insured by Farm Bureau Insurance Company. The motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet and the motorcycle was not insured. As a result, there was a dispute whether the motorcyclist “owned” the motorcycle within the terms of the No-Fault Act since he never signed the certificate of the title as the buyer. The certificate of title also excluded the price, odometer reading, and sale date. Farm Bureau Insurance Company denied the no-fault coverage and the motorcyclist’s estate brought an action for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits. The trial ruled in favor of the estate and the Farm Bureau Insurance Company appealed.

According to the Court of Appeals, MCL 500.3113(b) didn’t preclude the motorcyclist’s estate from collecting PIP benefits since under that statute, uninsured owners or registrants of motorcyclists are not entitled to PIP benefits. However, Farm Bureau Insurance Company argued that even if PIP benefits were available under that statute, they were precluded by the statute because MCL 257.658 is part of the Michigan Vehicle Code and sets forth the circumstances in which an individual riding or operating a motorcycle is not required to wear a helmet.

The Court of Appeals explained that MCL 500.3101(1) explains the security required for a registrant or owner of a motorcycle and describes the security for payment of PIP benefits that an insurer must provide to the registrant or owner of a motorcycle. While the MCL 500.3103 does not require the motorcycle registrant or motorcycle owner to purchase PIP coverage, the Court states that the rider or operator of the motorcycle who does not wear a helmet must have benefits under MCL 257.658(5)(c) in effect. However, the Court added, “Nothing in the plain language of these statutes actually precludes an uninsured, helmetless operator or rider from collecting PIP benefits.”

Farm Bureau Insurance Company argued that the Michigan Vehicle Code and the No-Fault Act should be read together and that the Legislature purposefully precluded no-fault benefits, even if Legislature did not say so in the statutes. The Court of Appeals declined this argument and concluded:

Regardless of the Legislature’s intent to require helmetless operators and riders to purchase security for PIP benefits under MCL 257.658(5)(c), it did not preclude them from collecting PIP benefits if they nevertheless failed to satisfy this requirement. Thus, any evidence that Swick was not wearing a helmet did not create a question of fact regarding his entitlement to PIP benefits, and the trial court properly rejected this defense below.

Goodman Acker P.C. Can Protect Your Rights and Future

Cases involving motor vehicle accidents and PIP insurance can be highly complex. At Goodman Acker P.C., our legal team of Detroit personal injury lawyers has ample experience and knowledge handling such cases. If you or someone you love has been harmed in a motorcycle accident or any other type of collision, we urge you to get in contact with our team right away.

To discuss your case, call our Detroit personal injury attorneys at Goodman Acker P.C.!