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Memberselect Ins Co v State Farm Mut Ins (COA – UNP 12/4/2018; RB #3821)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 339163; Unpublished
Judges O’Brien, Tukel, and Letica per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion

Definition of Owner [§3101(2)(h)]


In this unanimous per curiam opinion the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of summary disposition for Defendant State Farm Insurance Company (“State Farm”) regarding the issue of vehicle ownership. The Court found a genuine issue of material fact regarding ownership because the driver of the motor vehicle had access to the vehicle, free control of the vehicle, and used the vehicle.

John Whited’s (“Whited”) daughter purchased a vehicle, insured the vehicle with USAA Casualty Insurance Company (“USAA”), and registered the vehicle in her own name. When Whited’s daughter was deployed with the United States Navy, she gave Whited permission to use the vehicle rather than storing it. From February 2014 to October 2014 Whited had possession and use of the vehicle. Whited had his own personal vehicles as well, which were insured through State Farm.

In October 2014, Whited was driving the vehicle when he exited the freeway. The car in front of Whited stopped suddenly causing Whited to stop suddenly as well. The motorcyclist driving behind Whited braked quickly, but unfortunately the motorcycle slid onto its side and the cyclist suffered a traumatic brain injury. Memberselect promptly paid the cyclist’s PIP benefits and later filed a subrogation action against State Farm and USAA. Both Defendants filed a motion for summary disposition. USAA was dismissed from the action because it was not notified within one year of the accident. The trial court granted summary disposition for State Farm because it found that it only insured the driver of the vehicle, not the owner. This would make State Farm second in priority to USAA, and because USAA was not liable Memberselect, it could not seek subrogation from a second priority insurer. Memberselect appealed the State Farm summary disposition.

The Court reversed the trial court because it found that there was a genuine issue of material fact if Whited was the owner. Under MCL 500.3101(2)(1) an owner is “a person renting a motor vehicle or having the use of a motor vehicle, under a lease or otherwise, for a period that is greater than 30 days.” (emphasis added). Here, the evidence showed that Whited was given permission to use the vehicle during his daughter’s deployment, the vehicle was given to Whited in February 2014, and Whited and his wife drove the vehicle from Virginia back to Michigan. Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Memberselect, the court found that these facts created a genuine issue of material fact regarding Whited’s ownership and use of the vehicle.

“Here, when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff, the non-moving party, there is a question of fact if John was an “owner” of the Altima at the time of the accident. The evidence shows that Tanita gave the Altima to her parents in February 2014 and told them to use the vehicle during her deployment overseas. John and his wife drove the vehicle from Tanita’s home in Virginia to their home in Michigan, where it remained for their use through the time of the accident, which spanned a period of approximately eight months. Tanita further testified that she wanted them to “use” the vehicle and not to simply store it while she was deployed. Thus, the evidence shows that John’s usage was not based on mere “permission of another” but was also based on a “possessory” interest as well.”

Thus, the Court reversed the trial court and found a genuine issue of material fact.

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