Court sends complicated question of vehicle ownership back to the lower courtBelinda Goldstein has not owned a car since she became afflicted with multiple sclerosis. She lived with Daniel Leon who relied primarily on an employment-provided vehicle for transportation, however, in 2005, she made arrangements to bring her mother's car back from New Mexico to Michigan. Almost immediately, she was involved in a car accident and the vehicle's insurer, GEICO, refused to pay personal injury protection [PIP] benefits to Goldstein and Leon. Geico argued that under its New Mexico insurance policy, it was not obligated to pay benefits to Goldstein as she was an "owner" of the vehicle under Michigan no fault law and had not insured it in the State of Michigan.
The trial court rejected GEICO's first argument--i.e., that it was not obligated to pay benefits arising out of a Michigan crash because it insured the subject vehicle in another state. Since GEICO is registered to sell no fault insurance in Michigan, it is legally obligated to provide Michigan benefits to occupants of an insured out-of-state vehicle involved in a collision in Michigan. With regard to GEICO's second defense, however, the Court of Appeals concluded that an evidentiary hearing was necessary.
The Court of Appeals held that under the facts as elucidated in the lower court, a finder of fact could reasonably conclude that Goldstein had become the owner of the vehicle under Michigan law when she returned with it to Michigan. If it would be available for her unlimited use for more than 30 days, she became obligated to insure it here. On the other hand, if the fact-finder believed Goldstein and her witnesses' claims that the car was being returned to Michigan for her mother's convenience and that she was required to secure her mother's consent to use it, then Goldstein was not a statutory "owner" required to insure the vehicle.