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Michigan Workers’ Compensation Benefits Denied

By: Jerry R. Newman

Jerry R. NewmanThe Michigan Supreme Court upheld the Judgment of the Court of Appeals, denying workers’ compensation benefits to a plaintiff who was injured while driving to work in a company vehicle loaned to him by his employer.

William Little worked for Kappen Tree Service. His employer lent him a company truck to drive from the company’s main office to the work site due to the unavailability of his personal vehicle. While driving to the work site he rear-ended another vehicle and suffered injuries.

A claim for workers’ compensation benefits was made with our client, Farmers Insurance. Upon receiving the claim, Farmers contacted our Farmington Hills office for an opinion on whether the claim should be accepted. After doing legal research applying the facts of the case to Michigan law, a recommendation was made to deny the claim. The claim was denied, and the plaintiff made a claim for Michigan No-Fault auto insurance benefits against the carrier that insured the truck. Benefits were paid by the No-Fault carrier, who then filed litigation for reimbursement in the Michigan Workers’ Compensation Agency.

A trial was first held on the issue of whether the plaintiff was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The Magistrate ruled in favor of the No-Fault carrier, stating the accident occurred in the course and scope of employment, even though testimony showed the plaintiff was not on the clock at the time of the incident.

The case was appealed to the Michigan Workers’ Compensation Appellate Commission, which ruled in favor of Farmers, stating the plaintiff’s journey did not fall within any of the exceptions to the general rule that injuries occurring while going to or from work in Michigan are not compensable.

The auto insurance company filed an appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals. After briefing of the issues and oral argument before a three Judge panel of the Court, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Appellate Commission, ruling the accident did not take place in the course and scope of employment.

The auto insurance company then filed a Motion for Leave to Appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied the Motion in an Order which stated “…we are not persuaded that the question presented should be reviewed by this Court.”

Our firm’s experience with this case was one in which our recommendation to deny the claim was agreed to and followed by our client. Although the result at trial was not favorable, we stuck to our position and we were victorious at every step in the appeal process.

For more information or questions on how this pertains to cases you are handling please e-mail the author here.