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IT'S MICHIGAN, INSURER'S WIN PART 2: Court reverses lower court, holds Farm Bureau can exlude coverage for boating injuries

On November 27, [Happy Thanksgiving!] the Supreme Court gave Farm Bureau something else to be thankful for.  It summarily reversed a lower court ruling and let Farm Bureau off the hook for a boating accident.

Nicholas Bowers was hurt when his wife, Julie, piloting a 2003 Starcraft fishing boat, ran over him while tubing.  The boat was owned by Bowers' parents; they had loaned it to Nicholas and Julie for several weeks.  The boat was insured by Farm Bureau.  Farm Bureau's policy excluded coverage for any injury suffered by an "insured."  Of course the parents were the named insureds, but the policy also defined as an insured anyone "legally responsible" for and having "custody and use" of the boat.  The trial judge concluded that at the time of the injury, Julie was piloting the boat and therefore was "legally responsible" for its use--thereby making the policy available to pay for Nicholas' injuries.  Farm Bureau appealed.

The Court of Appeals reviewed the record and determined that the facts relating to the "custody" of the boat were not clear in the record and therefore reversed the trial judge's holding.  The appellate judges would have returned the case to the lower court for further investigation of the temporary "custody or use" of the boat by Julie and Nicholas.

Farm Bureau appealed to the Supreme Court.  The high court overturned the Court of Appeals and ruled that there were enough facts on record to apply Farm Bureau's coverage exclusion to this incident.  It sent the case back to the trial judge with a legal ruling that Nicholas Bowers possessed the boat by a bailment from the owners, making him "legally responsible" for the boat, which the Court deemed was in his "custody and use" at the time he was hurt.  Therefore he was an "insured" and could not recover for Julie's negligent operation even though she was insured under the policy.

Seriously, in Michigan, if you know which side the insurer is on, you can predict the outcome of every case.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
Toll Free: 1-800-678-1307
Fax: 231-929-7262