Court holds that where joint custody exists, child is domiciled in both homes for purpose of no fault coverage
Josalyn Lawrence suffered fatal injuries in a car accident. Her mother's car was insured with Farm Bureau and her father's car was insured with the Grange Insurance Company. The parents were divorced and the court had awarded them joint legal custody of Josalyn. She stayed with her mother most week days but maintained a bedroom and possessions at her father's home and spent most every other weekend with him.
Farm Bureau paid Josalyn's PIP benefits (medical and a small burial expense) and the Grange refused to reimburse one-half of these expenses. The Grange argued that Josalyn's sole domicile was with her mother and that its policy dictated that the insurer for her "principal domicile" was solely responsible for PIP benefits. The trial court and the Court of Appeals rejected this argument, holding that Josalyn was domiciled with both parents for purposes of the no fault act. The Court of Appeals also noted that Grange's attempt to define a "principal" domicile excusing it from shared PIP responsibility was illegal and not controlling.
It would be interesting to evaluate whether the courts would also give the family the benefit of any uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage that they may have purchased; or, whether the insurers will be allowed to enforce a "primary domicile" provision to refuse to pay these coverages where the benefit of a shared domicile would inure to the premium-paying family.