Mate v Wolverine Mutual Ins Co; (COA-PUB, 12/1/1998; RB #2036)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 201125; Published   
Judges Markey, Griffin, and Whitbeck; 2-1 (with Judge Markey Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part); Opinion by Judge Griffin  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  233 Mich App 14; Link to Opinion  alt   

Resident Relatives [§3114(1)]  

Private Contract (Meaning and Intent)  
Insurance Agents (Duty to Insured)   

In this published Opinion by Judge Griffin, Judge Markey concurring in part and dissenting in part, the Court of Appeals found that the automobile policy at issue did not, by its terms, provide underinsurance coverage for an 18-year old killed in a motor vehicle accident where the policy by its terms extended coverage only to "the named insured, his spouse if a resident of the same household and any family member." The decedent in this case was neither a named insured in the policy, nor was he related to the policyholder, or a resident of the policyholder's household.

Shane Mate was killed in a motor vehicle accident in 1992. At the time of the accident, he was an 18-year old, residing with his mother. Shane's mother and her ex-husband (the policyholder in this case), resided in separate households at the time of the accident. Shane's mother owned a 1985 Chrysler LeBaron automobile that was insured by defendant Wolverine. However, the sole named insured of the policy was James Mate (despite the similarity of last names, it was undisputed that James was neither the father or a relative of Shane Mate, and was Jeanette Mate's ex-husband at the time of the accident).

The Estate of Shane Mate sought underinsured motorist benefits under the automobile policy written by Wolverine and naming James Mate as the insured.

The underinsured policy provided coverage for the "named insured, his spouse if a resident of the same household, and any family member." The policy defined family member as "a person related to you [the named insured or a spouse if a resident of the same household] by blood, marriage or adoption who is a resident of your household." There was no dispute that Shane Mate was neither a named insured in the policy nor was he related to James Mate or a resident of James Mate's household.

The Court of Appeals held that underinsured motorist coverage is not required by law and therefore is optional insurance offered by some, but not all, Michigan automobile insurance companies. Because such insurance is not mandated by statute, the scope, coverage, and limitations of underinsurance protection are governed by the insurance contract and the law pertaining to contracts.

Based upon the language of the policy at issue, the majority found that the lower court correctly granted summary disposition regarding plaintiff’s contract claim.

The majority also rejected plaintiff’s arguments that Wolverine was estopped from disclaiming coverage for plaintiff’s claim, and plaintiff’s argument that the insurance agent who placed the insurance coverage committed professional malpractice or was negligent in failing to provide for underinsured motorist coverage. The court found no "special relationship" as required by the prior holding in Bruner v League General Insurance Company, 164 Mich App 28 (1987).

In her dissent, Judge Markey would find genuine issues of material fact regarding the claims of estoppel, negligence, and professional malpractice.