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A Better Partnership
May 16, 2016

COA: Insurance policy requiring “direct contact” with an unidentified vehicle limits plaintiff’s claim for uninsured motorist benefits

Where an insurance policy requires “direct contact” with an unidentified vehicle, the policy limits uninsured motorist coverage to claims where the unidentified vehicle itself hits an insured person or vehicle says the Michigan Court of Appeals in McJimpson v. Auto Club Group Insurance Company, No. 320671.  Because the uninsured motorist provision in this case was written narrowly, the “substantial physical nexus” test, created by the Michigan Court of Appeals and employed in uninsured motorist cases, did not apply.
 
In 2012, plaintiff was injured when a piece of metal flew off of an unidentified semi-truck and struck her vehicle.  The semi-truck never stopped.  Plaintiff filed a claim for uninsured motorist benefits under her insurance policy with the defendant.  Plaintiff’s policy had an insured motorist provision that provided benefits when “a hit-and-run motor vehicle of which the operator and owner are unknown and which makes direct physical contact with: (1) you or a resident relative, or (2) a motor vehicle which an insured person is occupying.”  Defendant refused payment under the provision and plaintiff filed suit.  At trial, defendant moved for summary disposition arguing that plaintiff did not meet the requirements for these benefits under the policy.  The trial court denied the motion and defendant appealed.
 
On appeal, the defendant argued that the phrase “direct physical contact” was not ambiguous and that the semi-truck never made “direct physical contact” with plaintiff’s vehicle.  The Court of Appeals agreed.  In these types of cases, the Court noted that it had held that both direct and indirect contact are sufficient to trigger coverage under uninsured motorists provisions.  The Court has created a “substantial physical nexus” test in order to determine when indirect contact was sufficient.  Here, the Court concluded, the language in the insurance policy was narrower than in its previous “indirect contact” cases, and this narrow language precluded “indirect contact” from being considered.  Accordingly, the Court held that the requirement of “direct contact” was not met in this case and reversed the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion for summary disposition. 
 

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