Author(s): Edward Freeland

Volume XX, No. 4 January 28, 2008

COURT OF APPEALS ACKNOWLEDGES PLAINTIFF’S EQUITABLE ESTOPPEL THEORY IN CLAIM BY MICHIGAN RESIDENT TO RECOVER PERSONAL PROTECTION INSURANCE BENEFITS UNDER PLAINTIFF’S COLORADO AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE POLICY

While living in Colorado with his wife, Geneva Cartwright, Tyrone Austin purchased a Colorado automobile insurance policy from the Dairyland Insurance Company. In November of 1991, Cartwright was involved in a motor vehicle accident in Michigan. As Dairyland had filed a 3163 Certificate2, it paid Cartwright Michigan personal protection insurance benefits (Cartwright’s claim extended over a period of approximately one and a-half years). In December 1991, while Austin was overseas serving in the military, Cartwright and her son moved to Royal Oak, Michigan to be near family. Cartwright obtained a Michigan driver’s license and Dairyland corresponded with Cartwright at her Michigan address when paying claims arising out of the November 1991 accident.

Austin renewed the policy with Dairyland on December 27, 1992, however, when doing so, the policy was not changed from a Colorado policy to a Michigan policy. In January 1993, while Austin was again overseas, Cartwright was involved in a motor vehicle accident in which she allegedly sustained a closed head injury. Thereafter, Dairyland paid Cartwright Michigan personal protection insurance benefits until February 1995 when, after conducting independent medical examinations, Dairyland took the position that Cartwright’s closed head injury was not a result of the 1993 accident. Cartwright filed suit in 2004 and two years thereafter, Dairyland filed a motion for summary disposition arguing for the first time that Cartwright’s Colorado policy would not provide her with Michigan personal protection insurance benefits. Dairyland argued that as a Michigan resident, Cartwright was required to maintain a Michigan no fault automobile insurance policy and that she could not rely upon Section 3163 for payment of Michigan personal protection insurance benefits under her Colorado automobile insurance policy.

Although the Trial Court found that Cartwright was a Michigan resident, it denied Dairyland’s motion for summary disposition. The Trial Court found that the doctrine of equitable estoppel may apply as there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Cartwright had relied upon Dairyland’s knowledge of her change in residency when paying her 1991 claim.

As noted by the Court of Appeals:

“Equitable estoppel arises where a party, by representations, admissions or silence, intentionally or negligently induces another party to believe facts, and the other party justifiably relies and acts on this belief, and will be prejudiced if the first party is permitted to deny the existence of the facts. Casey v Auto-Owners Insurance Company, 273 Mich App 388 (2006).”

In upholding the Trial Court’s denial of summary disposition, the Court of Appeals noted that Cartwright had corresponded with Dairyland about her 1991 accident as early as December 1991, using her Michigan address. Morever, Dairyland paid Cartwright’s claims arising from the 1991 accident for one and a-half years, corresponding with Cartwright at her Michigan address. Dairyland renewed the policy in December 1992, and Cartwright used her Michigan address when renewing this policy. Moreover, the adjuster’s claim notes reflected that he was aware of Cartwright’s residency change and this information had been sent to Dairyland’s underwriting department.

The Court of Appeals further noted that Dairyland’s normal procedure upon learning that an insured vehicle is being garaged in a state other than one where the policy was issued was to send out a non-renewal notice and inform the insured that it must transfer the policy to the state where the vehicle is garaged. Dairyland never sent a notice of non-renewal nor denied Cartwright’s claim until February 1995. Instead, Dairyland applied unlimited Michigan personal protectioninsurancebenefitsevenafterlearningthatCartwrightwasaMichiganresident.3 Based upon these factors, the Court of Appeals held that the Trial Court had properly found a genuine

issue of material fact existed with regard to whether Cartwright had relied upon Dairyland’s representations that she was entitled to unlimited Michigan personal protection insurance benefits under the Colorado policy. If so, Dairyland would be estopped from denying coverage on the basis that Cartwright’s Colorado policy would not provide these benefits inasmuch as she was a Michigan resident at the time of the motor vehicle accident.

PRACTICE TIP

The Estate of Geneva Cartwright v Dairyland Ins Co (COA No. 275152) is an unpublished decision issued by the Court of Appeals on January 10, 2008. While residency is always an important consideration when addressing the issue of order of priority, the issue of residency within the State of Michigan is of paramount importance when addressing claims for Michigan personal protection insurance benefits under a non-Michigan policy as those claims may be excluded in their entirety if the claimant is a Michigan resident.