Court again refuses to give strangers immunity based on ambiguous language in release
For the third time in a month, a Michigan Court has struck down an insurer's attempt to use an accident victim's release of another party to avoid its own obligations to the victim. Historically, "releases" were interpreted according to the parties' mutual intent and third-parties could not derive advantage from poor draftsmanship. The Engler Majority changed all that about ten years ago and activist judges began granting windfalls to third-party insurers who could find beneficial release language in documents to which they were strangers.
This summer, the non-Engler majority of the Supreme Court took cautious steps toward reversing the latter trend and restoring common sense by refusing to give strangers to the document an unbargained-for windfall if the Release language is not clear on the face of the document. Nevertheless, these documents remain a trap for the unwary if the victim cannot demonstrate some inherent ambiguity. The Plaintiffs in White v. Taylor Distributing Co. barely avoided entrapment when the Court of Appeals refused to give the at-fault driver/owner the benefit of a release pertaining to PIP benefits.