Domicile of "young adult in transition" is subject matter of PIP dispute; court stresses flexible approach.
Andrew Lucio was forced to sue two no fault insurers, AAA and the Great Lakes Casualty Insurance Company, when each claimed that the other owed PIP benefits to Lucio after a motor vehicle collision. Lucio's parents were divorced and he was shuffled between their homes through high school. By his final year of high school, he turned 18 and chose to return to Saginaw to attend school. To do so, he moved in with an unrelated woman who lived near the high school he wanted to attend. Both she and Lucio's mother allowed Lucio to use their cars and disclosed him as a driver to their respective insurers.Each insurer claimed, however, that Lucio should claim PIP benefits from the other insurer as a "resident" of the other insured household. The Court of Appeals was thus required to determine Lucio's domicile at the time of the collision. It pointed out that while the surrogate mother, Penny Maxwell, declared Lucio as a dependent on her taxes and while Lucio's step-father claimed Lucio had been kicked out of his mother's house, these facts were not controlling under the circumstances.
The Court noted that Lucio testified he intended to return home after finishing his senior year of high school (and in fact he did return there for several weeks of rehabilitation after being injured). Further, he used his mother's address on his driver's license, in his dealings with the school, with his employer and for most of his activities. His mother paid for his haircuts, glasses, clothing and cellphone and gave him spending money. He returned home and slept there on occasion, ate meals with his family and did laundry there. His mother maintained a bedroom for him where most of his possessions remained. He was listed as a resident on his mother's health insurance. Under the circumstances, the Court ruled that no genuine issue of fact remained and that Lucio's legal domicile was with his mother--not with Ms. Maxwell.
The Court emphasized that domicile under the no fault law is a "flexible" concept and a "resident" may include someone not actually living in the same household. It listed many of the salient variables and emphasized the "realities of young adulthood [with] differing degrees of separation from the parental home." The Court also noted that a separate ground existed for holding AAA responsible for the benefits: under the precise language of the AAA policy (purchased by his mother), Lucio was a "named insured" and covered under a provision extending coverage to "your unmarried child attending school away from home."