Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 329485; Unpublished
Judges M.J. Kelly, Murphy and Ronayne Krause; Unanimous, Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam Opinion, the Court of Appeals held the trial court properly found that, pursuant to MCL 500.3114(3), Travelers Insurance was liable for paying PIP benefits to plaintiff, who was injured in an accident while driving a vehicle owned by his employer.
Plaintiff was operating a truck that was purchased by his business partner and used exclusively for business purposes when he was rear-ended by a semi-truck. The business, Metropolitan Baking Distributing (Metro), had a no-fault policy with defendant Travelers Insurance that covered the truck. Defendant State Farm insured plaintiff’s personal vehicles, which were not involved in the accident. The issue in the case was which insurer had priority to pay plaintiff’s PIP benefits. The trial court held the truck was owned by Metro and, therefore, Travelers was liable for PIP benefits. On appeal, Travelers claimed the trial court erred in finding that the truck was owned by Metro.
The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that Travelers owned the truck and, as a result, it was liable for paying no-fault benefits.
According to the Court, §3114(3) provides that employees and their spouses injured in “a motor vehicle owned or registered by the employer” seeks benefits from the vehicle’s insurer, rather than from the insurer that covers their personal vehicles. In this case, there was no dispute that plaintiff was an employee of Metro. Rather, the dispute was whether the truck was “owned or registered by” Metro.
To resolve this issue, the Court of Appeals examined MCL 500.3101(2)(h), which includes several definitions of “ownership.” According to the Court, the relevant definitions in this case were: “(i) a person renting a motor vehicle or having the use thereof, under a lease or otherwise, for a period that is greater than 30 days, and (ii) a person who holds the legal title to a vehicle, other than a person engaged in the business of leasing motor vehicles who is the lessor of a motor vehicle pursuant to a lease providing for the use of the motor vehicle by the lessee for a period that is greater than 30 days.” The Court noted that the word “person” includes business entities.
The Court noted that the evidence was conflicting as to who held title to the truck. The Court pointed out the title certificate showed plaintiff’s business partner to hold title and that plaintiff believed the partner held title to the vehicle personally. On the other hand, the partner asserted that he had transferred title to Metro before the accident occurred. As a result, “a genuine question of material fact exists regarding title ownership of the vehicle relevant to MCL 500.3101(2)(h)(ii),” the Court stated.
However, the Court of Appeals continued by examining the concept of “ownership” based on the use of a vehicle, noting that a vehicle can have more than one owner. Therefore, plaintiff, his partner and Metro could all have been “owners” of the truck if they had “use” of the truck for at least 30 days, the Court observed.
Looking at the evidence that was presented, the Court pointed out: 1) plaintiff and his partner opened a business together in 2012 and considered it a partnership; 2) in 2013, the partner purchased the truck for a business purpose and there was no evidence the truck was used for any other purpose; 3) on the day of the accident – “undisputedly more than 30 days after the vehicle’s purchase” – plaintiff was driving a load of bread in the truck to Illinois, as he had done twice a week until then.
Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that, because Metro was an owner of the truck, and Travelers undisputedly insured the truck, plaintiff was an employee driving an employer-provided motor vehicle insured by Travelers on the day of the accident, pursuant to §3114(3).