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Another ruling on joyriding and "unlawful taking."

On Friday the Court of Appeals issued a ruling following-up on the Republican Supreme Court majority's change in the law on "unlawful taking" of motor vehicles.  Prior to August of 2012, Michigan law was pretty clear with regard to who could collect no fault PIP benefits (medical and wage loss plus very limited household services).  The prior decisions had followed the rules on "ownership liability" and held that if there was an unbroken chain of consent to use a vehicle, or if a vehicle was used by an owner's family member, the ultimate user was entitled to collect PIP benefits.

Last month the Republicans on Michigan's Supreme Court re-wrote those rules.  It reversed precedent and held that if an owner's family member took a vehicle without consent, the taking became "unlawful" rather than non-permissive, and the user could not collect PIP benefits.  The insurer-friendly majority (Justice Markman is now something like 29 for 29 in ruling in favor of insurance companies in disputes over PIP benefits) also repudiated the established holding that an unbroken chain of consent would assure PIP benefits--even if somewhere in the chain a user had exceeded the consent of a predecessor (such as in the case where a "borrower" allows another person to drive despite the owner's instructions).

Applying these rules in LeJuan Rambin v. Allstate, the Court of Appeals rejected Allstate's refusal to pay PIP benefits.  In Rambin, the Plaintiff had borrowed a bike from a third-party who represented that he owned it.  The Plaintiff rode the bike in a one-day event but suffered injury in a collision on the way home.  Analyzing the Republican majority opinion in Spectrum Health/Progressive Marathon, the Court of Appeals ruled that it did not preclude Rambin from collecting PIP benefits.  The Court pointed out that Spectrum stressed evaluating the end-user's understanding of whether the vehicle he was using was taken unlawfully.  Since there was no evidence to contradict Rambin's belief that he had lawful permission to use the bike, he was not guilty of an "unlawful taking."  The Court noted, however, that an additional exception may apply and that Rambin still may not be entitled to PIP benefits, regardless of his innocence in using a previously stolen vehicle.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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