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Lanter v Stephens; (COA-UNP, 1/29/2015; RB #3405)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #318358; Unpublished   
Judges Murray, Saad, and K.F. Kelly; Unanimous; Per Curiam  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion   

Compulsory Insurance Requirements for Owners or Registrants of Motor Vehicles Required to Be Registered [§3101(1)]
Definition of Owner [§3101(2)(h)]  
Disqualification of Uninsured Owners/Operators for Noneconomic Loss [§3135(2)]

Not Applicable  

In this unanimous unpublished per curiam Opinion, the Court of Appeals held that summary disposition was properly granted for defendants on both the issue of plaintiff’s entitlement to PIP benefits and to noneconomic damage under MCL 500.3135(2), because plaintiff never purchased no-fault insurance on the vehicle that was involved in the accident.
Plaintiff’s mother owned and held title to a Chevrolet Impala, and transferred title to plaintiff. Plaintiff, however, never obtained no-fault insurance on the Impala. Defendant Stephens, a truck driver for defendant Grand Rapids Transport, struck the Impala while plaintiff was driving it. Plaintiff was injured and brought this claim against defendants for noneconomic damages, alleging that Stephens was negligent and Grand Rapids Transport was vicariously liable. Defendants moved for summary disposition, asserting plaintiff was precluded from recovering noneconomic damages under §3135(2) because plaintiff was the Impala’s constructive owner and he never purchased no-fault insurance. The trial court granted defendants’ motion.

The Court of Appeals agreed that plaintiff was precluded from recovery under §3135(2)(c). In so holding, the court explained that §3101 requires a vehicle’s owner or registrant to maintain no-fault insurance and that §3135(2)(c) precludes recovery of damages by a vehicle owner who violates this mandatory insurance requirement.

In this case, the Court of Appeals said the question was whether plaintiff was an “owner” within the meaning of §3101(2)(h). In this regard, the court said:

“’[I]t is the nature of the right to use the vehicle — whether it is contemplated that the right to use the vehicle will remain in effect for more than thirty days — that is controlling, not the actual length of time that has elapsed.’ … Accordingly, if two parties have an agreement to transfer ownership of a vehicle, the prospective owner acquires ownership if the agreement ‘contemplate[s] that the [prospective owner will] have exclusive use of the [car] permanently.’ … After such an agreement has been made, it inconsequential if condition precedents, such as transfer of title or full payment, have not been fulfilled at the time of accident — the prospective owner of the car is the ‘owner’ of the car under MCL 500.3101(2)(h)(i) if the ultimate purpose of the agreement was to allow the prospective owner to have ‘exclusive use of the [car] permanently.’”

The Court of Appeals rejected plaintiff’s claim that he did not own the vehicle within the meaning of §3101(2)(h) because he never purchased insurance for it, and thus he failed to satisfy one of the conditions precedent to his mother’s agreement to transfer title to him. The court said:

“[T]his argument misstates the law — as noted, it is inconsequential for purposes of MCL 500.3101(2)(h)(i) whether conditions precedent to the agreement to transfer ownership of a car are satisfied. Instead, the relevant inquiry is whether the agreement itself contemplated that plaintiff would eventually have permanent, exclusive use of the vehicle. … [A]s plaintiff stated in his deposition, the agreement between plaintiff and his mother contemplated that plaintiff would eventually have permanent, exclusive use of the vehicle. Accordingly, at the time of the accident, plaintiff was the ‘owner’ of the Impala as that term is used in MCL 500.3101(2)(h)(i).”

Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that plaintiff was prohibited by §3135(2)(c) from pursuing a claim for noneconomic damages.

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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