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Court Considers Requiring Motorized Scooters to Have Auto Insurance

By Aaron Crowe
A Michigan court is being asked to rule that a motorized scooter must have auto insurance, which could require the many elderly and disabled scooter drivers across the country to buy insurance that isn’t even offered yet.
The case stems from a paralyzed man in Macomb County, Mich., who was hit by an SUV while crossing the street in his motorized mobility scooter on his way to a doughnut shop. The insurance companies in the case claim they shouldn’t have to pay for his injuries caused by the SUV because his scooter doesn’t have auto insurance.
Michigan is a no-fault insurance state that prevents someone operating a motor vehicle without insurance from bringing a claim for injuries against another driver, says Thomas J. Simeone, a lawyer in Washington, D.C.
A Catch-22 in the case is that insurers don’t sell insurance to motorized scooters — also called granny scooters and motorized wheelchairs. So even if the man in the Michigan case wanted to buy auto insurance before he was hit by a car, he couldn’t have. However, a court’s ruling could open a new field for insurers.
“The irony is that Michigan insurers do not now offer insurance to motor scooters,” Simeone says, “so this would allow insurance companies to avoid paying claims to users of scooters without insurance and then increase their business by beginning to write insurance policies to those users who purchase insurance.”
The scooter driver in the case, George Veness, 63, was paralyzed in a work accident in 2004. His scooter accident happened in 2012 near his home in Center Line, Mich. He’s seeking payments for medical procedures for his injuries that he has were caused by the accident, and money for pain and suffering.
One of the insurers argued in April that the claim should be dismissed because the scooter is a “sophisticated motor vehicle” that’s operated by power other than muscle power and has more than two wheels, and should be insured like a car. Because it wasn’t insured, Veness can’t make a claim, the insurer argued, just as any driver in Michigan can’t make a claim if they don’t have auto insurance in an accident.
The insurer has since withdrawn that dismissal motion, though it is still refusing to pay the claim and could make the same argument if the case goes to trial.
An estimated 300,000 elderly and disabled people use motorized scooters and powered wheelchairs nationally. A car hit and killed an Idaho woman on a motorized scooter in July.
The majority of scooter users are disabled or elderly, and many may not be able to afford insurance for their scooter, Simeone says. If insurance is required, they’d be driving at their own risk and wouldn’t be able to bring a claim and be reimbursed by anyone who injured them negligently, he says.
“This has big implications for many disabled and elderly people in Michigan and other states that have similar laws,” Simeone says. Michigan is one of a dozen states that has no-fault auto insurance.
A motorized scooter driver who injures someone else while driving is another issue entirely.
“In many other states, you can bring a claim against another driver even if yo do not have insurance,” he says. “However, if you cause injuries and do not have insurance, you are personally responsible for any damages suffered.
“Nevertheless, if states with these different rules also rule that motorized scooters are motor vehicles, then users of motorized vehicles will be required to have insurance and will be subject to citations and fines for not doing so, even if they can still bring a case.”
Simeone says it wouldn’t be shocking if the Michigan court ruled that the state legislature didn’t intend to list motorized scooters as motor vehicles that require insurance, and that the legislature should make such a significant change in the law. But in a courtroom, anything is possible.
Aaron Crowe is a journalist who covers the auto industry for