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State Farm loses effort to avoid paying PIP benefits for Florida resident

For the past 27 years, 85 year-old Orlin Bestrom has lived seven months in Florida and 5 months in Michigan.  He returns to Michigan in the summer to volunteer at a church camp.  In 2006, he was loading a pickup at the camp when it started to roll forward:  he had accidentally left it in neutral.  Bestrom attempted to enter the rolling vehicle to stop its progress, but slipped and fell and was run over,crushing his shoulder, breaking his jaw and necessitating four surgeries.  He sought to collect personal injury protection (PIP) benefits to cover his related medical.  His claim was assigned to Titan Insurance Company, who paid his medical expenses but then sued State Farm (Bestrom's Florida insurer) and Brotherhood Mutual (the insurer of the truck) for reimbursement.  State Farm lost and appealed to the Court of Appeals.

State Farm raised a raft of issues, mostly spurious, in its effort to avoid liability.  It claimed, for example, that while the pickup was rolling forward without a driver, it was not a "motor vehicle currently engaged in transportational purposes."  The Court rejected that argument instantly by noting that reasonable analysis requires a "longer view" of the truck's use.

State Farm also argued that since Bestrom did not register his truck in Michigan, and insure it under Michigan's No Fault statute, he was ineligible to collect PIP benefits.  The Court noted that the statute which makes the owner of an unregistered vehicle unable to collect PIP benefits applies only to persons injured while using their own, improperly insured, vehicle.  If Bestrom had been injured driving his car in Michigan, having not registered it after 30 days, he would have been denied PIP benefits.  The statutory penalty does not apply, however, simply because someone owns a non-involved, unregistered vehicle that spends more than 30 days in Michigan.

Lastly, State Farm argued that Bestrom was really a Michigan resident, not a Florida resident, and therefore the statutory provision making his out-of-state insurer (State Farm) responsible for his Michigan injuries, should not apply.  The Court noted, however, that Bestrom spends the majority of the year in Florida, keeps a Florida--not Michigan--driver's license, owns no property in Michigan, and registers his car in Florida, from where he also pays Federal income taxes.  This has been the case for more than 20 years, therefore, his ties are stronger to Florida and Florida is properly considered his residence or domicile.  State Farm will finally be required to honor its statutory obligation to pay Bestrom's PIP benefits.

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