|April 27, 2017
Volume XXIX, No. 6
COURT OF APPEALS ADDRESSES WHO IS A REGISTRANT AND AN OWNER FOR PURPOSES OF PRIORITY FOR PIP BENEFITS, AS WELL AS WHAT CONSTITUTES A SETTLEMENT
By Justin A. Zink
In Matthew Dye v Esurance Prop & Cas Ins Co (Unpub, COA No. 330308, 4/4/17), Plaintiff, Matthew Dye purchased a BMW car. Plaintiff’s father, acting on behalf of Plaintiff and with Plaintiff’s military power of attorney, obtained insurance for the BMW from Esurance. The Esurance policy, however, only listed plaintiff’s father Paul as the named insured. Plaintiff was living with his wife, Lisa, who owned another vehicle insured through a policy issued by GEICO. Neither Plaintiff nor the BMW were listed on the GEICO policy.
Two months after purchasing the BMW, on September 26, 2013, Plaintiff suffered a traumatic brain injury and other serious injuries in a motor vehicle accident while driving the BMW. Plaintiff filed a claim for no-fault benefits from Esurance, as well as a claim with GEICO. Both insurers denied payment and Plaintiff filed suit for breach of contract, naming both Esurance and GEICO in the complaint. Subsequently, Esurance paid $388,068.36 in No-fault PIP benefits and sought reimbursement from GEICO.
GEICO initially admitted that it was the primary insurer for Plaintiff and agreed to reimburse Esurance for the full amount of Esurance’s demand plus attorney fees and costs. On November 5, 2014, GEICO’s counsel sent a release and settlement agreement to counsel for Esurance outlining the terms of the settlement which included language waiving all future claims. Esurance objected to the waiver of future claims, and requested a revised release. GEICO agreed to revise the language, but also indicated it no longer wanted to pay attorney fees. On November 13, 2014, the Court of Appeals designated the Barnes v. Farmers Ins Exch, opinion for publication and as a result, GEICO withdrew its offer to reimburse Esurance. Esurance responded by filing a cross-claim against GEICO requesting a declaratory judgement that GEICO breached the agreement to reimburse Esurance for benefits paid, plus attorney fees.
GEICO filed its motion for summary disposition of Plaintiff’s claim based on the Barnes decision, Esurance filed its motion for summary disposition to enforce the previous settlement agreement with GEICO and to have the court declare GEICO as the insurer of highest priority. Plaintiff filed his summary disposition motion taking the position that his father Paul was an owner and registrant for purposes of the No-Fault Act and that the Barnes decision conflicts with present controlling case law. The trial court ruled in favor of Esurance and Plaintiff, and denied GEICO’s motion. GEICO subsequently appealed the trial court’s decisions.
On appeal, GEICO argued that Plaintiff was the sole owner and registrant of the BMW and was therefore ineligible for PIP benefits because as he did not maintain the requisite coverage according to MCL 500.3113. The Court of Appeals determined that Plaintiff’s father Paul was not the registrant of the BMW because a registrant is the person whose name is on the vehicle’s title on the date of the accident, and in the present case only Plaintiff’s name was on the vehicle’s title on the date of the accident. The Court of Appeals further found a genuine issue of fact as to whether Plaintiff’s father was an “owner” of the vehicle, relying upon the analysis of “ownership” set forth in Ardt v Titan Ins Co, 233 Mich App 685, 690; 593 NW2d 215 (1999), Detroit Med Ctr v Titan Ins Co, 284 Mich App 490, 493-493; 775 Nw2d 151 (2009), Twichel v MIC Gen Ins Corp, 469 Mich 524, 532; 676 NW2d 616 (2004), and Botsford General Hosp v Citizens Ins Co, 195 Mich App 127, 133-134; 489 NW2d 137 (1992). When considering Paul’s use of, and access to, the BMW, together with all other relevant facts, the Court concluded that reasonable minds could differ as to whether Paul was an owner of the BMW and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the issued opinion.
Finally, after reviewing the trial court’s decision to enforce the original settlement agreement between GEICO and Esurance, the Court of Appeals found that GEICO and Esurance never agreed to the total amount GEICO would pay in consideration for Esurance’s release. The Court of Appeals found that when GEICO indicated it did not want to pay attorney fees, it amounted to a counter-offer for which Esurance never articulated its unambiguous acceptance. The Court concluded that there had not been a meeting of the minds on all of the essential terms, or an acceptance that was unambiguous and in strict conformance with the offer, such that no contract was ever formed. Therefore the trial court erred in granting Esurance’s motion for enforcement the agreement, and the Court of Appeals reversed that decision.
|Justin is an Associate in our Detroit Office. He can be reached at 313.446.5577 or firstname.lastname@example.org|
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