People v. Keskimaki, Docket No. 97060

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Citation521 N.W.2d 241,446 Mich. 240
Docket NumberNo. 1,M,Docket No. 97060,1
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Ray Sam KESKIMAKI, Defendant-Appellant. ay Term. Calender
Decision Date23 August 1994

Gary L. Walker, Marquette County Pros. Atty. by Terrence E. Dean and by Scott K. Hanson, Asst. Pros. Attys., Marquette, for plaintiff-appellee.

Mark Peter Stevens, Marquette, for defendant/appellant.

Before the entire bench.

BRICKLEY, Justice.


We granted leave in this case to determine whether the accident exception 1 to the physician-patient privilege contained in subsection 9 of the implied consent statute encompasses the situation in which an occupied vehicle is lawfully "parked" on the shoulder of the roadway with headlights on and engine running. We conclude that both the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred in characterizing such a situation as an accident within the meaning of the statutory exception. Accordingly, we vacate the decisions of the trial court and the Court of Appeals and we order that the results of defendant's blood test that were previously admitted under the accident exception be suppressed.

I Facts

Our review of the record supports the following facts. On February 2, 1991, at approximately 6:48 p.m., a Republic Township 2 police officer observed the defendant's vehicle lawfully "parked" 3 on the shoulder of the roadway, with headlights on and motor running. Tire tracks in the snow indicated that the vehicle had traveled in a straight line, following its departure from the roadway. Stopping his car to investigate further, the officer observed the defendant slumped over the steering wheel, apparently unconscious and breathing erratically. Using a "slim jim" to unlock the defendant's car, the officer attempted to rouse defendant by shaking him. When defendant failed to respond, the officer summoned emergency medical services (EMS) to transport defendant to Bell Memorial Hospital in Ishpeming, where a blood sample was drawn and analyzed, revealing a blood alcohol content greater than 0.1 percent.

Defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicating liquor per se 4 and, alternatively, operating a motor vehicle while visibly impaired, second offense. 5

filed a motion to suppress the results of the blood tests, arguing that he had not been involved in an accident as required under the accident exception, and that, consequently, the results were not admissible under M.C.L. § 257.625a(9); M.S.A. § 9.2325(1)(9). 6 The district court denied defendant's suppression motion, ruling that an accident had occurred within the meaning of the statute, rendering the results of the blood test admissible.

Defendant challenged the district court's ruling in an interlocutory appeal in the circuit court, but the circuit court affirmed the district court's order, and denied defendant's motion for reconsideration.

The Court of Appeals granted defendant's interlocutory application for leave to appeal, and affirmed the lower courts' decisions in an opinion per curiam issued June 22, 1993. 7 While recognizing that a lawfully parked car, without more, cannot logically be considered an accident, it nevertheless determined that the totality of the circumstances mandated the conclusion that an accident had occurred and that the results of the blood test were properly admitted under the accident exception. M.C.L. § 257.625a(9); M.S.A. § 9.2325(1)(9). In support of its conclusion, the Court of Appeals cited Tope v. Howe, 179 Mich.App. 91, 445 N.W.2d 452 (1989), a case in which the Court of Appeals had struggled with the problem of determining what constituted an "accident" for purposes of the provision for arrest without a warrant embodied in the implied consent statute. 8 The Tope Court adopted the following definition of "accident," had been promulgated twenty-six years earlier in an insurance dispute:

[A]n "undesigned contingency, a casualty, a happening by chance, something out of the usual course of things, unusual, fortuitous, not anticipated, and not naturally to be expected." [Tope, supra at 99, 445 N.W.2d 452, quoting from Guerdon Industries, Inc. v. Fidelity & Casualty Co. of New York, 371 Mich. 12, 18-19, 123 N.W.2d 143 (1963).]

Applying this to the case at bar, the Court of Appeals concluded that a car parked alongside the highway with its engine running, its lights on, and its driver slumped over the passenger seat, unable to be easily aroused, when considered in its entirety, constituted

"an 'undesigned contingency, a casualty, a happening by chance, something out of the usual course of things, unusual, fortuitous, not anticipated, and not naturally to be expected.' " [200 Mich.App. 277, 281, 503 N.W.2d 755 (1993).]

On this basis, the Court of Appeals denied defendant's motion to suppress.

On March 21, 1994, we granted defendant's application for interlocutory leave to appeal, 9 and we now vacate the decisions of the lower courts and order that the results of the blood test be suppressed.


The sole issue before this Court on appeal is defendant was involved in an "accident" within the meaning of the accident exception 10 to the physician-patient privilege. 11 Perhaps partly because of its belief that the meaning of the word "accident" was intuitively apparent, the Legislature neglected to define this term when it enacted this legislation. Despite this apparent omission, we have never before endeavored to provide a functional definition of "accident" applicable to subsection 9 of the implied consent statute. Although we have ascribed meaning to this term in the insurance setting, we conclude today that the expansive definition of "accident" adopted by this Court within the insurance context cannot be blindly transported into the criminal arena. Accordingly, we turn our attention to the statute and the case law in an effort to determine the appropriate meaning of "accident" under the accident exception.


Generally, information relating to medical treatment falls within the ambit of the physician-patient privilege, and remains confidential. 12 Subsection 9 of the implied consent statute, however, carves out a limited exception. At the time of the alleged "accident," M.C.L. § 257.625a(9); M.S.A. § 9.2325(1)(9) stated in pertinent part:

after an accident the driver of a vehicle in the accident is transported to a medical facility and a sample of the driver's blood is withdrawn at that time for the purpose of medical treatment, the results of a chemical analysis of that sample shall be admissible in a criminal prosecution for a crime described in subsection (1) to show the amount of alcohol ... in the person's blood at the time alleged, regardless of whether the person had been offered or had refused a chemical test. [Emphasis added.]

Pursuant to this section, results of a defendant's blood tests may be obtained irrespective of whether the physician-patient privilege has been waived or a valid search warrant has been obtained. The admission of such evidence at trial in accordance with this subsection violates neither the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures nor the physician-patient privilege. 13

In People v. Perlos, 436 Mich. 305, 328, 462 N.W.2d 310 (1990), we examined the constitutionality of subsection 9 of the implied consent statute, and concluded:

We find subsection 9 to be a carefully tailored statute which only allows chemical test results to be turned over to the state under narrowly defined circumstances, if the state requests them. For the statute to apply there first must be an accident, a person must be taken to a medical facility, the person must have been the driver of a vehicle involved in the accident, and medical personnel must order a chemical analysis, on their own initiative, for medical treatment. This is not a sweeping abandonment of the physician-patient privilege. Prosecutors can only gain access to chemical test results. They cannot obtain all of a medical records, nor can they obtain a blood sample for their own discretionary testing. Consequently, within narrow parameters, the Legislature has created a minor exception to the physician-patient privilege.

It is this "minor exception" that we seek to interpret and apply in the instant case. We are constrained in this endeavor by the well-established cannon of statutory construction that compels the judiciary to seek to effectuate the intent of the Legislature. Marquis v. Hartford Accident & Indemnity, 444 Mich. 638, 513 N.W.2d 799 (1994). In doing so, we must employ the "ordinary and generally accepted meaning of the words used by the Legislature." Lorencz v. Ford Motor Co., 439 Mich. 370, 376, 483 N.W.2d 844 (1992). Ever mindful of these guiding principles, we commence an examination of the purposes underlying the statute.


The legislative purposes underlying the accident exception were articulated in Perlos, supra, where we observed that subsection 9 was designed to promote the safety of both the public and the drunk driver. Perlos, supra 436 Mich. at 333, 462 N.W.2d 310. Public safety is enhanced by simplifying the prosecution of drunk drivers; this "ease[ ] of prosecution" flows naturally from subsection 9's authorization of the admission into evidence of blood-alcohol content test results obtained without a warrant. 14 The injured drunk driver's safety is facilitated by allowing police to acquire the test results without a warrant, thereby eliminating any potential delay in securing prompt medical attention resulting from the police officer's need to effectuate a lawful arrest; arresting the driver before the administration of the blood-alcohol test is not a prerequisite for admission of the test results. Cognizant of the recognized purposes underlying the provision, we turn now to the relevant case law.


Initially, we note that neither our Court nor the Court of...

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