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Hmeidan v State Farm Mut Auto Ins Co (COA – PUB 11/27/2018; RB #3814)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 338707; Published
Judges Murray, Meter, and Gleicher written by Judge Murray
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion


STATUTORY INDEXING:
Exception for Motorcycle Injuries [§3114(5)]

TOPICAL INDEXING: 


SUMMARY:
In this unanimous published opinion by Judge Murray, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order granting summary disposition for Progressive Michigan Insurance Co. (“Progressive”) regarding first-party PIP benefits for domiciled relatives. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court because it found that no-fault insurers can be required to provide first-party PIP benefits for domiciled relatives who are injured while driving motorcycles and involved in motor vehicle accidents under MCL 500.3114(5).

Plaintiff was driving a motorcycle when he was struck by a motor vehicle. The motor vehicle fled the scene and the identity of the driver was never ascertained. Plaintiff did not have auto no-fault coverage at the time of the accident. Progressive insured the motorcycle at the time of the accident. Plaintiff lived at his mother’s house, but he also stayed with his brother. Initially Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking no-fault benefits from either State Farm Insurance Co. (“State Farm”) or Farmer Insurance Exchange (“Farmers”). Plaintiff sought benefits from Farmers because it was assigned to it from the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan. Plaintiff sought benefits in the alternative from State Farm because it was the no-fault provider for his mother, whom he alleged he lived with. Farmers filed a cross motion against Progressive because it was the insurer of the motorcycle. At a settlement conference the parties agreed to dismiss Farmers from the action. Plaintiff brought a new action against State Farm and Progressive and the two no-fault insurers brought actions against one another to establish which company was the highest priority.

At the trial the judge initiated a conversation about priority. The judge expressed confusion as to why State Farm would be liable to Plaintiff if Plaintiff did not purchase the policy from State Farm and the State Farm policy did not name Plaintiff in its policy. The trial court ultimately decided that State Farm was not liable under MCL 500.3114(d) because Plaintiff did not have an auto insurance policy from State Farm. Therefore, the trial court determined that Progressive was the auto insurer of highest priority. Progressive filed a motion for reconsideration and the trial court again determined that Progressive was an insurer of higher priority because State Farm was not a motor vehicle insurer under MCL 500.3114(d).

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court because it found that the court erroneously interpreted MCL 500.3114(d). The Court cited to Farmers Ins Exch v Farm Bureau Gen Ins Co, 272 Mich App 106, 111; 724 NW2d 485 (2006), which explained that MCL 500.3114(d) provides an exception to the general rule of priority for motorcyclist who are involved in a motor vehicle accident. MCL 500.3114 mandates priority as:

. . .
(a) The insurer of the owner or registrant of the motor vehicle involved in the accident.
(b) The insurer of the operator of the motor vehicle involved in the accident.
(c) The motor vehicle insurer of the operator of the motorcycle involved in the accident.
(d) The motor vehicle insurer of the owner or registrant of the motorcycle involved in the accident.

Under the terms of Plaintiff’s mother’s auto insurance policy State Farm provided no-fault coverage to her and to any family member who resided in her home. The initial dispute in the trial court between State Farm and Progressive was whether Plaintiff lived with his mother so as to invoke the protections of MCL 500.3114(c). Progressive argued that the plain language of MCL 500.3114(c) does not restrict it to cases where the motorcyclist owns and insures a separate motor vehicle, as the trial court seemed to interpret it. The Court agreed and explained that the legislature used the term “motor vehicle insurer” to simply delineate between motor vehicle insurers and motorcyclist insurers. If the Legislature wanted to include a requirement that a motorcyclist is only eligible for PIP benefits when the cyclist insurers a separate vehicle, then it would have said so. The judiciary cannot re-write statutes and it must interpret the language of a statute at face value. Therefore, the trial court’s interpretation was found to be erroneous.

“When the Legislature spoke of a “motor vehicle insurer” in MCL 500.3114(5)(c) and (d), it was speaking of just that—a motor vehicle insurer. State Farm insures Aida’s motor vehicle and, as such, is a motor vehicle insurer. What is left for the jury to decide is whether State Farm insures “the operator of the motorcycle”—plaintiff. In this regard, it is undisputed that State Farm’s policy extends coverage to relatives of Aida residing in her household. Clearly, plaintiff is a relative of his mother. But it must be determined whether he is a resident of her household. Thus, before it may be determined whether State Farm is the priority insurer, the matter must be remanded to the trial court for a jury to answer the question that the parties intended to have answered through trial: whether plaintiff resided with Aida.”

Thus, the judgment of the trial court was vacated, and the case was remanded for further factual determinations.

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