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AutoOwners required to buy repacement van for Ingham County paraplegiac

Kenneth Admire was paralyzed in a 1987 motor vehicle collision.  His Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurer, Auto Owners, was required to purchase a handicapped van for his use.  The parties entered into a "purchase agreement" in 2000, pursuant to which Auto Owners bought the van, but Admire was obligated to maintain it for seven years.  If he were to die during that period, Auto Owners was entitled to recover the remaining fair market value.   In 2007, when Admire sought a replacement van, Auto Owners argued that the language of the 2000 agreement did not require it to purchase the replacement.  Auto Owners also argued that recent decisions by the Michigan Supreme Court limited the PIP insurer's duty to only paying the cost of "replacing the handicap equipment"--not the vehicle itself. 

The appellate court affirmed a trial court decision in Admire's favor.  It concluded that while the 2000 agreement implied that Auto Owners would be required to pay for the van, the agreement never explicitly stated that requirement, creating an ambiguity to be resolved by the jury.  Nevertheless, regardless of the language of the contract, with regard to Auto Owners' argument that it no longer owed a duty to pay for handicapped transportation, the Court pointed out that the identical argument had been rejected in a prior Court of Appeals' decision, Begin v. Michigan Bell.  

    In Begin, the PIP provider had argued that the severely injured accident victim should make do with available public transportation.  It claimed that a Michigan Supreme Court decision denying injury victims repayment for "institutional food"--because they would have needed food even if they weren't injured--should apply to limit injury victims to their own resources for transportation.  The Begin court rejected this argument, noting that the victim could not operate a standard vehicle and had transportation needs that were different than the needs of the public at large.  In order to assure normal freedom of movement and proper medical care, the court ordered the PIP provider to pay the reasonable expense of appropriate transportation.  The Admire court reached the same conclusion and ordered  Auto Owners to pay for a replacement van.

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