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Jawad A. Shah, M.D., PC, et al. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (COA – UNP 10/29/2020; RB #4173)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 351156; Unpublished
Judges Stephens, Sawyer, and Beckering; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion 

Required Content of Notice / Sufficiency of Notice [§3145(1)]

Not Applicable

In this unanimous unpublished per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing the plaintiffs’ first-party action to recover no-fault PIP benefits and remanded for further proceedings.  An adjuster for the defendant, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, spoke on the phone with State Farm’s insured, Tina Fulkerth, after Fulkerth was injured in a motor vehicle collision, and immediately created a report documenting Fulkerth’s injuries, which was then routed to State Farm’s PIP department.  Given the adjuster’s actions, the Court of Appeals held that Fulkerth substantially complied with the written notice requirement of MCL 500.3145(1) and that her claim was therefore preserved.

Fulkerth was injured in a motor vehicle collision on February 26, 2015, and State Farm was informed of the collision on March 9, 2015 from an adjuster with another insurance company “who apprised defendant of property loss.”  On March 11, 2015, State Farm’s adjuster, spoke with Fulkerth on the telephone and opened a claim file for Fulkerth.  In the claim file, Fulkerth indicated, “This claim is for PIP only,” and listed “Neck pains” as Fulkerth’s collision-related injuries.  Shortly thereafter, Frederick requested and received a copy of the policy report and routed the claim file to State Farm’s PIP department for follow-up.  The PIP department called Fulkerth on multiple occasions, and sent a follow-up letter to her on March 17, 2015, but Fulkerth did not respond, prompting State Farm to close its file.  Fulkerth then sought treatment for the injuries she sustained in the collision more than two years later, in December 2017, and in December 2018, Fulkerth executed an assignment in favor of the plaintiffs, “authorizing them to collect no-fault benefits from defendant for the healthcare services they provided her.” The plaintiffs then filed the underlying lawsuit against State Farm on December 28, 2018, and State Farm moved for summary disposition, arguing that the plaintiffs failed to bring their claim within one year of the collision and failed to preserve their claim by providing sufficient written notice pursuant to MCL 500.3145(1).  The trial court agreed and granted summary disposition in State Farm’s favor.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order, holding that, because of Frederick’s actions—generating a PIP claim report after being informed in his telephone conversation that Fulkerth that had been injured in the collision, obtaining the police report from the collision, and routing the claim file to State Farm’s PIP department—State Farm “received written notice that substantially complied with MCL 500.3145(1) [that] was sufficient to preserve Fulkerth’s claim.”  Furthermore, the Court of Appeals held that the mere fact that Fulkerth did not elect to file a claim for PIP benefits at the time of her telephone conversation with Frederick did not render her notice ineffective or invalid, and that it did not matter that Frederick was not acting on Fulkerth’s behalf when she opened the claim file and transmitted it to State Farm’s claim department.

The record in the case at bar shows that defendant possessed written notice that substantially complied with the requirements of MCL 500.3145(1). Less than a month after the accident, Frederick generated an on-screen record of her conversation with Fulkerth that contained the name of the claimant (and that she was the wife of defendant’s named insured), the location of the accident (Dryden), and the nature of her injuries (“Neck pains”). In addition, the police report obtained by Frederick and forwarded to defendant’s PIP department, along with Frederick’s record, provided Fulkerth’s address, the time of the accident (11:45), and a more precise location for the accident (the intersection of Main Street and Mill Street). The record further shows that defendant’s PIP department acted on this information by attempting to contact Fulkerth by telephone. When that did not work, defendant’s PIP department sent Fulkerth a letter informing her that it had “received [her] Personal Injury claim” and wished to discuss “[her] loss and coverages available under [her] policy.” Lastly, the record suggests that defendant closed Fulkerth’s file, not because it lacked any of the statutorily required information, but because Fulkerth had not indicated an intent to immediately file a claim. Plaintiffs’ argue that the record shows that Fulkerth fulfilled the purpose of MCL 500.3145(1) by substantially complying with its requirements.

. . .

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, and keeping in mind the remedial nature of the no-fault act, In re Geror, 286 Mich App at 134-35, we hold that, under the circumstances of this case, Fulkerth satisfied the notice requirements of MCL 500.3145(1). Therefore, plaintiffs’ claim is not barred by the no-fault act’s one-year statute of limitations. This is not a case where there was no written notice or where the notice lacked any of the statutorily required content. Accordingly, the trial court erred by granting summary disposition to defendant pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7). In light of our disposition of this issue, we need not consider plaintiffs’ argument that defendant waived MCL 500.3145(1)’s written-notice requirement or that equitable estoppel applies.

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