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Child allowed use of mother's uninsured vehicle is not an "owner" denied PIP benefits

When someone is injured in a Michigan car accident, they normally collect Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits from their own insurer.  PIP benefits include unlimited medical and three years of lost wages or partial domestic services. The owner of an uninsured vehicle is not allowed to collect PIP benefits, however, regardless of the owner's "fault" or lack thereof in causing the injury.  As part of the no fault compensation system, owners are required to purchase PIP benefits from their own insurer and cannot collect PIP expenses from anyone if they have not.

In St. John Hospital & Medical Center v. Farmers Insurance Company, the Court of Appeals was required to address just what it means to be an "owner" of an uninsured vehicle.  Garrick McMillon was hurt while driving a vehicle titled in his mother's name.  The vehicle was uninsured.  St. John incurred $30,000.00 in medical expenses caring for McMillon.  It sued Farmers after Farmers was assigned the PIP claim through the Assigned Claims Facility.  Farmers argued that it was not required to pay PIP benefits because McMillon was an "owner" of the vehicle.

The Court of Appeals noted that this case fell within the parameters of two prior decisions with similar facts.  Under those decisions, even though McMillon was allowed use of an uninsured vehicle and lived in the same household as the registered owner, he was not deemed an "owner" because his use was limited and only by permission.  The Court has consistently held that "merely incidental usage" does not confer disqualifying "ownership:"  rather, an unregistered owner must enjoy "proprietary or possessory usage."  As with the previous cases, in this instance McMillon did not have a set of keys and could only use the car occasionally with his mother's permission.  This type of permissive use did not disqualify him from receiving PIP benefits.

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