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Court addresses factual issues surrounding sale of vehicle without prompt registration

In Titan Insurance Co. v. State Farm Automobile, the Court of Appeals had to sort out a priority dispute involving injuries suffered in a car-motorcycle collision.  Kenneth Curler was injured when his motorcycle was struck by a car.  Neither vehicle had PIP insurance applicable to the injury, so he was sent to the Assigned Claims plan, and through it to Titan.

Titan investigated and learned that Edward Shreve was the last registered owner of the bike, and that he had coverage through State Farm that would have applied to Curler.   Shreve claimed that he had sold the bike, for cash, to a man named Jay (address and last name unknown) on June 14, and gave him the title.  State Farm claimed that in accordance with Shreve's testimony, he was no longer the registered owner of the vehicle on June 18, and that it was "Jay's" responsibility to transfer title, not Shreve's.  State Farm claimed it had no responsibility for the vehicle after Shreve signed the title over to "Jay" and surrendered possession of the bike.

When the occupant of a motorcycle is injured in a collision with a car or truck, PIP benefits are payable first by the insurer of the car.  If the car's owner and driver do not have coverage, PIP benefits are then payable by the insurer of the bike or its operator.  By statute, State Farm is correct that the owner/registrant of a vehicle changes on the date of the application for a new title or the assignment of the certificate of title:  therefore, the trier of fact must determine whether Shreve's testimony is credible and whether he ceased to be the owner of the bike prior to the collision.  The court should not have decided the facts necessary to resolve this issue:  they were for a jury to determine. The pertinent statute, MCL 257.233(9), was revised in 2007 to make the effective date of transfer for specific.

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