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 Volume XXIV, No. 4, April 25, 2012    

From the Law Offices of Garan Lucow Miller, P.C.

From the Co-Editors

James L. Borin & Simeon R. Orlowski

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Titan v State Farm

The Ties That Bind

 

CONTRIBUTOR – STEPHEN THILL

 

The Michigan Court of Appeals’ recent decision in Titan v State Farm, __ Mich. App. __ (2012), docket no. 301214, provides attorneys and PIP carriers alike some helpful guidance regarding priority for PIP benefits for uninsured motorcyclists.

On June 17, 2006, Kenneth Curler was injured when the motorcycle he was riding collided with a motor vehicle. Curler was not covered by a personal protection insurance policy. The driver of the motor vehicle also was not covered by a PIP policy. The Michigan Assigned Claims facility therefore selected Titan to provide PIP benefits to Curler.

Titan discovered that, prior to Curler, the last titled owner of the motorcycle was Edward Shreve. At the time of Curler’s accident, Shreve was covered by a PIP policy issued by State Farm. Titan brought a dec action, seeking a judgment that State Farm was in a higher priority than Titan for Curler’s PIP benefits and should reimburse Titan for the benefits it had paid.

Titan relied on MCL 500.3114(5), which governs priority for PIP benefits for a person who, while riding on a motorcycle, is injured in an accident involving a motor vehicle.

Given that neither Curler nor the other vehicle’s driver, who was apparently also the owner and registrant of that vehicle, was covered by a PIP policy, the issue was who was the owner or registrant of the motorcycle under MCL 500.3114(5)(d).

The Certificate of Title to the motorcycle indicated that Shreve sold the motorcycle to Curler on June 18, 2006, the day after Curler’s accident. However, there was also evidence that Shreve actually sold the motorcycle, and surrendered its title, to a man named Jay on or about June 14, 2006, several days before the accident. Despite the evidence that the sale and transfer took place before the accident, Titan contended that Shreve remained the owner or registrant of the motorcycle on the date of Curler’s accident and that Shreve’s insurer, State Farm, was thus responsible for Curler’s PIP benefits under MCL 500.3114(5)(d).

Both parties moved for summary disposition and the trial court granted summary disposition in favor of State Farm. The trial court reasoned that Shreve had signed the Certificate of Title and delivered the motorcycle to Jay before the accident and that State Farm’s liability had therefore been extinguished by the time the accident occurred.

Titan appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that there was a genuine issue of fact as to whether Shreve transferred title to Jay before the accident. Although Shreve had testified that he sold the motorcycle to Jay on or about June 14, 2006, the Certificate of Title showed a date of sale of June 18, 2006, the day after the accident.

The case was, therefore, remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. During additional discovery, Shreve testified that he left his license plate on the motorcycle when he sold it to Jay. There was also evidence that Curler did not seek a new license plate until the day after the accident. Based on these facts, Titan argued that, at the time of Curler’s accident, Shreve remained the motorcycle’s registrant for purposes of MCL 500.3114(5)(d). Meanwhile, based on testimony from Curler admitting that Shreve’s sale and transfer of the motorcycle took place before the accident, State Farm maintained that its PIP liability had been terminated by the time Curler’s accident took place.

Asked once again to determine whether Shreve was the owner or registrant of the motorcycle at the time of Curler’s accident, the trial court again granted summary disposition in favor of State Farm. The trial court concluded that Shreve was not the motorcycle’s owner because he had transferred his interest prior to the accident. The trial court also concluded that Shreve did not remain the motorcycle’s registrant at the time of the accident: although Shreve had left his license plate on the motorcycle when he sold it, there was no evidence that he had also left the certificates of registration and insurance in any of the motorcycle’s compartments.

Titan appealed again. Again, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that Shreve’s insurer, State Farm, was obligated to pay Curler’s PIP benefits. The Court of Appeals relied primarily on Clevenger v Allstate Insurance Co., 443 Mich. 646 (1993), in which the Michigan Supreme Court held that, even after transferring the vehicle title and the vehicle itself, the seller of an automobile remained the registrant of that vehicle because she had left her license plate on the car and had left the certificates of registration and insurance in the glove compartment.

Although there was no evidence that Shreve had left the certificates of registration and insurance in any of the motorcycle’s compartments, the Court held that the presence of Shreve’s unexpired license plate on the motorcycle at the time of Curler’s accident was sufficient to make Shreve the registrant of the motorcycle under MCL 500.3114(5)(d). Thus, Shreve’s insurer, State Farm, was in a higher priority for Curler’s PIP benefits than Titan, the assigned-claims carrier.

The lesson of Titan v State Farm is that, even after a motorcycle is sold, the previous owner’s insurer may be liable for PIP benefits incurred by the new owner following a motorcycle accident that involves a motor vehicle. The case also serves as a reminder of Clevenger v Allstate Insurance Co., which taught the same lesson with respect to the sale of an automobile.

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GARAN LUCOW MILLER

COMPLIMENTARY SEMINARS

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Indy City Seminar

JW Marriott, Indianapolis

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

To register contact: ecarty@garanlucow.com

 

INDY CITY SEMINAR – CONTINUING EDUCATION CREDIT

Garan Lucow Miller, P.C. is pleased to announce that the Indy City Seminar has been approved for 3 credit hours of continuing education credit from the IN Dept of Insurance.

Drawing to win 4 tickets to the Indy 500!

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Trial Boot Camp Seminar

Marriott, Troy, MI

Thursday, May 31, 2012

8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

To register contact: ecarty@garanlucow.com

 

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UPCOMING SEMINAR

 

Troy Breakfast Seminar

Marriott, Troy, MI

Thursday, August 16, 2012

8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

To register contact: ecarty@garanlucow.com

 

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GARAN LUCOW MILLER

INDY CITY SEMINAR

Garan Lucow Miller, P.C. is pleased to present a half day seminar covering both Indiana and Michigan Law on May 23, 2012, at the JW Marriott, located at 10 S. West Street, in downtown Indianapolis (317) 860-5800. Comprehensive written materials will be distributed to all seminar attendees.

8:30 – 8:55 Continental Breakfast – Registration

8:55 – 9:00 Welcome and Introductions

David N. Campos

9:00 – 9:30 Michigan First-Party No-Fault (PIP) Update

Speaker: David N. Campos

9:30 – 9:55 Indiana First-Party Law Update

Speaker: Gregory M. Bokota

9:55 – 10:15 Intellectual Property

Speaker: Robert D. Goldstein

10:15 – 10:25 Break

10:25 – 10:45 Michigan Premises Liability Update

Speaker: L. Ladd Culbertson

10:45 – 11:10 Michigan Third-Party Automobile Negligence Update

Speaker: L. Ladd Culbertson

11:10 – 11:35 Indiana Third-Party Law Update

Speaker: Gregory M. Bokota

11:35 – 12:00 Case Evaluation and Facilitation

Speaker: Robert D. Goldstein

12:00 – 12:45 Accident Reconstruction and “The Little Black Box”

James Hrycay – Hrycay Consulting Engineers

12:45 – 1:00 Questions and Answer Session

COURSE APPROVED FOR 3 CREDIT HOURS OF CONTINUING EDUCATION BY THE INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE!

If you are able to attend this complimentary event, please register via e-mail to Eileen Carty at: ecarty@garanlucow.com

We hope to see you there!

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GARAN LUCOW MILLER

TRIAL BOOT CAMP SEMINAR

 

Garan Lucow Miller, P.C. is pleased to present a full day seminar covering trial preparation and featuring a mock bench trial, on May 31, 2012, at the Troy Marriott, located at 200 West Big Beaver, Troy, MI 48084 (800) 228-9290. Comprehensive written materials will be distributed to all seminar attendees.

8:30 – 9:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast – Registration

 

9:00 – 9:30 a.m. Welcome and Introductions

John W. Whitman

 

9:30 – 10:30 a.m. Overview of PIP File

Speaker: John W. Whitman

10:30 – 12:00 p.m. Break Out Sessions-Sub Groups: Assigned to attorney for trial preparation

Speakers:

William J. Brickley

Judith A. Moskus

Timothy E. O’Neill

John W. Whitman

 

12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Lunch-(on your own)

 

1:00 – 2:30 p.m. Mock Bench Trial with Direct and Cross Examination

 

2:30 – 3:30 p.m. Question and Answer Session

 

 

If you are able to attend this complimentary event, please register via e-mail to Eileen Carty at: ecarty@garanlucow.com

We hope to see you there!