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Court majority holds that guardian of incapacitated injury victim cannot sue for breach of PIP contract

Barbara Converse is the guardian and conservator of Catherine Curtis who suffered catastrophic injuries in a motor vehicle collision.  She alleges that the Auto Club cheated Curtis out of contract benefits legally due Curtis under Curtis' no fault contract.  She also claimed that the Auto Club's behavior in managing the claim violated the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.

A majority of the Court of Appeals ruled that Converse couldn't pursue either theory, or a fraud claim, against ACIA.  It concluded that her fraud claims could not be viable where she had periodically consulted attorneys and negotiated with ACIA "at arm's length."  Since she was of necessity in an adverse relationship with ACIA, and since knowledge of the pertinent law was not exclusively in ACIA's possession, the court ruled that it owed no duty to inform Converse of the rights or benefits ACIA owed Curtis.  Any "reliance" by Converse on ACIA was therefore not "reasonable."

Converse also argued that the Court should not apply the "one-year back" rule to deny benefits to an incapacitated person, since one provision of the Revised Judicature Act "tolls" or extends the statute of limitations for infants and incompetents.  The majority held that Converse's argument was "mistaken" because the one-year back rule is not a statute of limitations--it "merely" defines what damages a victim may sue to collect.  Many thoughtful judges have noted that this "Engler Majority" distinction is a semantic dodge, devoid of meaning. Judge  Beckering rejected the majority's reasoning on virtually all of these points,  pointing out that the majority's interpretation of the "one year back" rule, in particular, eviscerates the Supreme Court's prior holding in University of Michigan Regents v. Titan Insurance.

In the latter case, the Court had held that the one year back rule would not be applied to prevent the University from collecting for medical care provided to an incompetent person, even though suit wasn't initiated within the first year.  Apparently, incompetents are only protected to the extent that they have incurred a debt to a powerful institution.

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