Woman not an "owner" of vehicle borrowed from live-in companion
Detroit Medical Center provided signficant medical care to Maria Jiminez after she was injured in a motor vehicle collision. Titan Insurance Company was assigned by the State to cover Jiminez's PIP benefits because she was an uninsured occupant [the driver] of an uninsured motor vehicle. Titan refused to pay her medical bills, claiming that Jiminez was exempted from receiving PIP benefits as the "owner or registrant" operating an uninsured car. The Court concluded that DMC was entitled to be paid after examining the circumstances of Jiminez' use of the vehicle.
Jiminez "apparently" lived with the owner of the vehicle and he was the father of her two children. Nevertheless, she was not on the title to the car and did not have keys to it. She had to ask permission to use the vehicle, and the father regularly gave her permission--approximately seven times over the course of a month. She had put gasoline in it but was not otherwise responsible for maintenance. The Court concluded that Jiminez use of the vehicle was "permissive" rather than "regular"; that she did not have possession or unfettered--or even regular--use or access and therefore she was not disqualified from receiving PIP benefits as a result of the owner's failure to insure the car.
The court also upheld the trial court's refusal to pay attorneys fees, since Titan's position was not "unreasonable". Given the similarity between this case and several other cases where ownership was imputed to the operator, Titan did not expose itself to payment of fees by denying payment of PIP benefits.