A Holland, MI couple was killed while riding a motorcycle on a warm evening in June. A 23-year-old woman failed to notice vehicles in front of her had stopped for a left turn. Why? Perhaps it was because she was driving under the influence of marijuana. At the last instant, she swerved to avoid the cars, crossed the centerline, and slammed, head on, into the motorcycle. The woman and her two passengers were on their way to a high school reunion at the time of the crash.
The family of the couple waited 10 months for criminal justice; the negligent driver was sentenced to prison for up to 15 years. The sentencing hearing presented the first showing of any remorse or apology by the woman; the victims’ family doubted her sincerity. The couple’s son said:
“I want her life to change, her heart to soften so something like this doesn’t happen again. If I see a life change, I think that’s more of an apology.”
The family has also sued the woman in civil court, for the couple’s wrongful death. Records show she was served with the complaint on Nov. 24, and given 21 days to file a written response to the lawsuit, which sought at least $25,000 in funeral costs and damages. A response never came and court records indicated she did not retain counsel.
She was subsequently served with a notice of default; when a named defendant defaults, that defendant can no longer participate in the case unless a motion to set aside the default is filed. A judge would then determine where there was good cause for failing to respond. The plaintiff can now request a judgment, which would have to be approved by the judge. But, the challenge doesn’t end there. If the negligent woman has no insurance (likely, since an insurance company would have defended and prevented default), the couple’s family can only be compensated if the woman has significant assets (also unlikely; she would not have defaulted with assets) or if the couple had insurance on the motorcycle or other family vehicle that includes coverage for uninsured motorist protection. Unfortunately, it is believed that the deceased did not maintain uninsured or underinsured coverage on their motorcycle. All of these facts leads me to the conclusion that there will be no recovery of compensation for this tragic accident.
I share this incident for a very important reason. The case illustrates the absolute necessity for all drivers to purchase uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage is usually optional coverage to protect the insured when seriously injured by the negligence of a person who has no insurance (or a hit & run vehicle). Underinsured motorist coverage protects you in a situation where the at-fault driver has insurance, but the insurance is inadequate to compensate the victims’ injuries, or, in this case, death. Most states have minimum liability limits; Michigan has a minimum liability limit of $20,000; some states have even lower minimum limits. Obviously, if you are seriously or catastrophically injured or killed, $20,000 or less is seriously inadequate compensation. On the other hand, if you have a policy with uninsured or underinsured coverage, you are entitled to compensation from your own insurance company, up to the coverage limits of that policy. So, protect yourself! Call your insurance agent today and ask if you have this coverage. If you don’t have it, purchase the maximum limits you can afford.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.