Court of Appeals second-guesses trial judge's credibility ruling; reinstates jury verdict
The Estate of Mansfield Patterson sued his aunt and uncle's No Fault insurer, the Auto Club, seeking Personal Injury Protection benefits (three years of limited wage loss, domestic service expenses of $20 per day for three years, and about $2,000.00 in funeral costs. They called as witnesses a number of family members who testified that Patterson lived with his aunt and uncle for nearly three years (from 17 to 20), but they had no written documentation, in the form of a driver license or voter registration, to support that claim.
The Auto Club argued that it was a family conspiracy to collect PIP benefits and offered no witnesses. Instead it pointed to Mansfield Patterson's mother's early statement to adjusters that he lived with his grandfather. The jury ruled in favor of the Auto Club, however, the trial judge overturned that result, concluding that reasonable and unbiased jurors could not reach that conclusion on the evidence presented. In particular, the Judge pointed out that the sole support for Auto Club's position was the early contradictions by the mother--whom the Judge found to be a completely unreliable witness.
The Auto Club appealed and drew an insurer-favorable Appeals Court panel including Judge Mark Boonstra-- who apparently competes for the title of "special interest-insurer's best friend." Not surprisingly, this panel of the higher court rejected the trial judge's analysis of the trial and reinstated the Auto Club's verdict that no PIP benefits were due. Somewhat surprisingly, the opinion written by the Court of Appeals, in summarizing the evidence, pointed to the fact that "Mansfield's 20-year-old cousin, ... also lived with the [aunt and uncle]..."