What You Need to Know:

  • A man is seeking benefits from insurers in Michigan for injuries sustained when a car hit him in his motorized scooter.
  • The insurers are refusing payment and say that the man’s motorized scooter was a motor vehicle, and should have been insured like a personal car.
  • Lawyers told Online Auto Insurance News (OAIN) that, if insurers win on their argument, users of motorized scooters and wheelchair could be required to buy car insurance coverage.

People in Michigan who use scooters and motorized wheelchairs could be required to get car insurance if courts rule in favor of the insurer in an ongoing case.

The court case could have implications for thousands of users of scooters and motorized wheelchairs in the state, attorney Harold Perakis told the Macomb Daily this month. Perakis represents George Veness, a 63-year-old man who was riding his scooter when struck by an at-fault car in 2012.

The Legal Argument

At the center of this court case is a fundamental question about car insurance: what constitutes a car? Other cases around the U.S. have raised questions of whether or not other modes of transport—like motorized scooters and wheelchairs and modified golf carts—require typical vehicle insurance and if benefits of that typical coverage apply when they crash.

Related Story: Fla. Court: Insurer Must Cover Injuries in Modified Golf-Cart Crash

In the Michigan case, Veness is seeking compensation for about $2 million in medical bills, including treatment for neck and back injuries and in-home care.

According to the Daily, State Farm and Farm Bureau of Michigan cut off injury benefits for Veness, arguing in court that his scooter is a vehicle and, under that classification, should be covered as such with Michigan auto insurance.

According to the Daily, State Farm attorney Timothy Groustra said in a legal brief that Veness’ “failure to obtain PIP (personal insurance protection) on his scooter means that (state law) bars him from recovering PIP benefits from State Farm.”

On the other hand, Veness’ attorney responded with a legal filing citing state law that “does not and has never recognized that an electrically-operated wheelchair is a ‘motor vehicle.’” According to the Daily, Perakis also said that Michigan law’s definition of a motor vehicle “does not include an electric personal assistive mobility device.”

Attorney: Case Has Wide Implications

Steve Gursten, a lawyer at Michigan Auto Law, spoke with OAIN after blogging about the case.

A court ruling in favor of State Farm and Farm Bureau would mean that “motorized wheelchairs are the equivalent of cars and trucks for auto insurance purposes,” Gursten said to OAIN. That categorization would mean users of motorized wheelchairs are technically “uninsured drivers” who are denied both the benefits of coverage and certain rights in court when they are injured in crashes.

In effect, according to Gursten, those people “will be forced to go out and purchase Michigan No-Fault auto insurance for their motorized wheelchairs.”

“For those folks, many of whom are already on very tight budgets, this will be a substantial, financial burden,” Gursten told OAIN.

Gursten also updated OAIN with the latest on the case in Macomb County Circuit Court. Both State Farm and Farm Bureau of Michigan submitted motions in which they contended that the case should be dismissed because Veness was owed no benefits. State Farm has since withdrawn the motion.

The case is next set for a “status conference” in September, according to Gursten.

In another blog post, Gursten said his research found no current products or coverage options for motorized wheelchairs at State Farm or Farm Bureau.