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Lei v Progressive Michigan Ins Co; (COA-UNP, 2/16/2016; RB #3499)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 325168; Unpublished  
Judges O’Connell, Owens, and Beckering; 2-1 (Judge Beckering dissenting); Non-unanimous; Per Curiam  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion Link to Dissent  

Not Applicable

Interpretation of Insurance Contracts
Uninsured Motorist Benefits 

In this non-unanimous unpublished per curiam Opinion (with Judge Beckering dissenting), the Court of Appeals held that a named insured’s step-grandchild was not entitled to UM benefits, because the step-grandchild was not a “relative” of the named insured, as that term was defined in the policy.

Plaintiff in this case suffered significant injuries after being struck by a car while crossing the street. Plaintiff resided part-time with her mother and stepfather in her step-grandmother's home. The step-grandmother had a no-fault policy with defendant Progressive. Plaintiff's father had a no-fault policy that covered some, but not all, of plaintiff's injuries. Plaintiff then sought UM benefits under the Progressive policy. The Progressive policy defined “insured person” as “you or a relative,” and defined “relative” as “a person residing in the same household as you, and related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption, and includes a ward, stepchild, or foster child.” Progressive moved for summary disposition, claiming the policy did not include plaintiff because she was not related to the named insured — the step-grandmother — as a step-child, but instead was a step-grandchild. The trial court denied Progressive’s motion.

The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that plaintiff was not entitled to coverage because, as a step-grandchild, she was not a “relative” under the language of the policy. In so holding, the court looked to the policy’s definition of “relative” and said:

“In this case, the word ‘includes’ follows the word ‘and.’ If the phrase ‘related to you by ... marriage ...’ included not only the marriage, but all additional relationships formed out of the marriage relationship, there would be no need to specify that stepchildren are also relatives under the policy. Thus, if this Court interpreted the phrase ‘related to you by ... marriage ...’ to include step-relationships, it would render the phrase ‘and includes ... step-children ...’ surplusage. We must avoid interpretations that render parts of the contract surplusage. ... Because the phrase ‘and includes ... stepchildren ...’ provides that stepchildren are relatives in addition to persons related to the insured by marriage, we conclude that this necessarily means the phrase ‘related to you by ... marriage ...’ does not include step relationships.”

Based on the policy language, the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiff was neither related to the named insured (the step-grandmother) by marriage, nor was she a step-child of the named insured, and therefore she was not a “relative” under the policy.

Judge Jane M. Beckering dissented, concluding the policy should be interpreted to include as a “relative” the named insured's step-grandchildren who resided in the named insured’s home. The judge said:

“It is only logical to conclude that a step-grandchild is related to a step-grandparent by marriage. … Likewise, it is reasonable to conclude that a 'step-grandchild' is related to a step-grandparent by marriage according to the phrase ‘related by marriage’ in the policy at issue.”

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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