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Butterworth Hospital v Wright and Farm Bureau Insurance Company; (COA-PUB, 7/29/1997; RB #1961)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 188374; Published   
Judges Bandstra, Hoekstra, and Batzer; Unanimous (with Judge Hoekstra Concurring); Opinion by Judge Bandstra  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  225 Mich App 244; Link to Opinion alt    


STATUTORY INDEXING:  
Disqualification for Unlawful Taking and Use of a Vehicle [§3113(a)]

TOPICAL INDEXING:   
Legislative Purpose and Intent    


CASE SUMMARY:  
In this unanimous published Opinion by Judge Bandstra, the Court of Appeals ruled that §3113(a) of the no-fault act, which excludes coverage for an individual who "unlawfully" takes a vehicle, did not preclude coverage and was inapplicable where the injured person was a family member who did not intend to steal the car, but rather only intended to use it for a joy ride.  

Floyd Wright was injured while driving his mother's automobile without her permission. Wright lived in a mobile home near his parents' home. From a previous accident, he had a seizure disorder, and based on this disorder, his parents did not allow him to drive either of their automobiles. Wright claimed that from time-to-time his mother gave him permission to drive to a local store. In this case, the facts were undisputed that when he asked for permission to drive her car on the day in question, she refused. Nevertheless, he took the car keys and drove the car, and was involved in an accident sustaining injuries which were treated at Butterworth Hospital. The car was in disrepair and Wright's parents had allowed the insurance on the car to lapse. Butterworth Hospital brought action for unpaid medical bills, and the claim was assigned to Farm Bureau Insurance Company, pursuant to §3172 of the no-fault act, providing for assignment of claims to the Assigned Claims Facility where there is no PIP insurance applicable to the injury. The trial court held that §3113(a) precludes coverage for an individual who "unlawfully takes a vehicle." Butterworth argued for a "joy riding" exception, because Wright had no intent to steal the car.  

Section 3113(a) of the no-fault act provides:

"A person is not entitled to be paid personal protection insurance benefits for accidental bodily injury if at the time of the accident any of the following circumstances existed:

 

(a) The person was using a motor vehicle or motorcycle which he or she had taken unlawfully, unless the person reasonably believed that he or she was entitled to take and use the vehicle."

In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals held that the phrase "taken unlawfully" is not defined in the no-fault act itself, but has been previously interpreted in Priesman v Meridian Mutual Insurance Company, 441 Mich 60 (1992) [Item No. 1571]. In that case, in the lead opinion, the court concluded that §3113(a) of the act did not apply to teenagers joy riding in their parents' automobiles. Although Priesman was not a majority opinion and the precedential value was considered by the Court of Appeals to be "somewhat problematic," the Court of Appeals felt compelled to follow it and held:

"We therefore conclude that §3113(a) of the no-fault act, which excludes coverage for an individual who unlawfully takes a vehicle, does not apply to cases where the person taking the vehicle unlawfully is a family member doing so without the intent to steal but, instead, doing so for joy riding purposes."

The court rejected Farm Bureau's arguments that because Wright took the car against the express prohibition of the owner, his taking was unlawful within the meaning of §3113(a). Taking against the express prohibition does not raise the intent from that of borrowing or joy riding to taking with the intent to steal. The court also rejected arguments that because Wright was physically incapable of operating the vehicle safely, and that because he knew the vehicle was uninsured, he was operating the vehicle unlawfully. These arguments, according to the Court of Appeals, merely raised questions regarding the use of the vehicle by right, not the taking. It is the unlawful nature of the taking, not the unlawful nature of the use, that is the basis of the exclusion under §3113(a).  

Finally, the court rejected the argument that Priesman was distinguishable because Wright, as an adult, lived apart from his parents at the time of the accident, whereas in Priesman, the injured minor was domiciled with his parents. The fact that the driver in Priesman was the insured's son who lived at home with his parents was only relevant in determining which no-fault insurer would pay benefits under the priority provisions of the no-fault act.  

In a separate concurring opinion, Judge Hoekstra would extend the "joy riding" exception expressed in the majority opinion to include persons other than family members. Judge Hoekstra would hold that §3113(a) of the no-fault act does not deny coverage to anyone who is merely joy riding.


Lansing car accident lawyer Stephen Sinas is the lead editor of the appellate case summaries published on this site regarding the Michigan auto insurance law. To learn more about how Stephen Sinas and how the Sinas Dramis Law Firm can help you if you have been injured in a Michigan auto accident, visit SinasDramis.com.

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