Court refuses to release Titan Indemnity from obligation to pay PIP benefits
Titan was assigned to pay No Fault Personal Injury Protection benefits (medical and limited wages and household services) to Tamika Harrell after she was hurt in a car accident. Harrell had never obtained a Michigan driver's license, had purchased no auto insurance and was not the titled owner of any automobile. Titan refused to pay, arguing that Harell was not entitled to collect PIP benefits because she was operating an uninsured car and should be considered an "owner" of the car.
The car was owned by Harrell's husband, who failed to insure it. While the plaintiff had received several tickets for operating the car without a valid driver's license in past years, she and her husband testified that he possessed the only keys and only allowed her to operate the car on limited occasions. Based on this testimony, the trial judge weighed the credibility of the witnesses and concluded that Harrell was not an "owner" of the car by statute. Titan appealed, but the judge's decision was affirmed. The Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence at trial of Harrell's "sporadic and intermittent" use of the uninsured vehicle was inconsistent with Michigan definitions of "ownership" and therefore the lower court judge's decision was not clearly erroneous.