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Auto-Owners loses fight over coverage for PIP benefits relating to woman hurt leaving hotel courtesy shuttle

GingerSchiller endured the misfortune--all too common today---of being redirected  mid-journey from one airport to another, and having to make an unscheduled overnight stay in Romulus.  The airline put her up in the local Howard Johnson Hotel, which provided her with transportation to and from the airport through the Comfort Inn's shuttle. She fell while exiting the van (most likely she'd only had a few hours' sleep, if our experience with these kind of air travel events is any indication), suffered a neck injury requiring surgery, and sought PIP benefits under Michigan's no fault law.  Since she was "alighting from a vehicle" when she was hurt, and still in contact with it, the only question was which no fault insurer should pay her medical expenses.  Ultimately, she was forced to sue when her insurer, Allstate, pointed the finger to Auto-Owners, the insurer of the van, and Auto-Owners wouldn't accept responsibility.

Normally a commercial vehicle transporting passengers has the first priority obligation to pay PIP benefits, but AutoOwners sought to limit that priority to cases where the vehicle involved and its owners are "in the business of transporting passengers."  AutoOwners wanted the Court to hold that Comfort Inn's use of the van was "merely incidental" to its business of operating a hotel, and compared the case to a college student who charges gas money to transport other students home on break.

The trial judge rejected this argument and found that transporting passengers to and from the airport was a "significant" part of the hotel's business.  Auto Owners appealed and was rebuffed again by the judges of the Court of Appeals.  Perhaps it didn't take into account the fact that this had become a dispute between two insurers--so it did not enjoy any advantage in Michigan's appellate courts.

The higher court pointed to the fact that the airport was essentially the raison d'etre of the hotel at this location: it served airport traffic and even advertised its location and shuttle as services of convenience to air travelers.  Under the circumstances, the Legislature's public policy of making commercial transportation vehicles bear primary responsibility for passengers' medical expenses clearly applied to the Comfort Inn shuttle.  The cases involving an incidental trip in a personal vehicle home from college, or from day care to a public school, were not legal precedent for AutoOwners' argument in this case.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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