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Gividen v Bristol West Ins Co, et al; (COA-PUB, 06/17/14; RB #3403)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 312082, 312129); Published  
Judges Wilder, Saad, and K.F. Kelly; Unanimous; Per Curiam; Opinion by Judge Wilder  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion alt    

Compulsory Insurance Requirements for Owners or Registrants of Motor Vehicles Required to be Registered [§3101(1)]    
Definition of Motor Vehicle (General) [§3101(2)(e)]  
Definition of Motor Vehicle (ORVs and ATVs) [§3101(2)(g)]  
Specific Exclusions from Motor Vehicle Definition [§3101(2)(e)]  
Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Motor Vehicle Involvement [§3105(1)]

Equitable Estoppel    

In this unanimous published per curiam Opinion, authored by Judge Wilder, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court determination that a modified Jeep with headlights, tail lights, turn signals, speedometer, and odometer not “hooked up,” with the original metal shell replaced by a fiberglass shell, with no doors or rear view mirror, and equipped with a roll bar and expensive tires impractical for driving on a paved road, was not a motor vehicle within the meaning of the definition of a motor vehicle contained in MCL 500.3101(2)(e) and was, in fact, an ORV, and, as a consequence, the injured plaintiff was not entitled to PIP benefits pursuant to MCL 500.3105(1), requiring that the injury arise out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use “of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle.”

Plaintiff was seriously and permanently injured as a result of a collision between an off-road-vehicle (ORV) ridden by plaintiff and a modified 1976 Jeep driven by another party. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was not covered by a no-fault insurance policy and did not reside with a relative with no-fault coverage. The Jeep involved in the accident was insured by a policy purchased in Texas. The owner of the Jeep believed that the policy was through Farmers. When a claim was filed for PIP benefits on behalf of the injured plaintiff, Farmers denied the claim and the matter was then assigned to Auto Club through the Assigned Claims Facility.

At trial, the court reviewed the undisputed evidence regarding modifications which had been made to the Jeep and concluded that it was apparent that the Jeep had been rendered an ORV by the various modifications. The court held that because the evidence established that the Jeep had been modified to the extent that it was no longer “designed for operation upon a public highway” as required by the provisions of MCL 500.3105(1), the Jeep did not qualify as a “motor vehicle” under the No-Fault Act at the time of the accident. Therefore, plaintiff was not entitled to PIP benefits arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of the Jeep under the No-Fault Act. The provisions of MCL 500.3105(1) specifically exclude ORVs from the definition of a motor vehicle.

Despite having concluded that plaintiff was not entitled to no-fault benefits under the no-fault statute, the trial court nevertheless concluded that the policy of insurance at issue required payment of PIP benefits to plaintiff based upon the policy language, which the court held permitted the term motor vehicle to be defined in a way that did not exclude ORVs. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court on this issue and held that the policy’s definition of “your covered auto” has no relation to the term “motor vehicle” as defined in the Michigan No-Fault Act. Where ORVs are statutorily excluded from no-fault coverage by MCL 500.3101(2)(e), the mere fact that the policy did not expressly exclude ORVs is irrelevant. Because the trial court properly determined that the Jeep was not a motor vehicle under the No-Fault Act, plaintiff was not entitled to Michigan PIP benefits.

Finally, the Court of Appeals denied plaintiff’s argument that defendants were “estopped” from arguing that the Jeep was not a “motor vehicle” because the initial denial of the claim was on another basis and did not assert the defense that the Jeep was not a motor vehicle until after the lawsuit was filed. The court held that although once an insurance company has denied coverage to its insured and stated its defenses, the insurer has waived or is estopped from raising new defenses (Michigan Township Participating Plan v Federal Ins Co, 233 Mich App 422 [1999]), this rule does not apply to broaden the coverage of a policy so as to protect the insured against risks not included in the policy. Lee v Evergreen Regency Co Coop & Mgt Sys Inc, 151 Mich App 281 (1986).

Michigan auto accident attorney 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

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