Author(s): C. David Miller

COURT DISCUSSES OWNERSHIP UNDER 3101(2)(h)(i)

In Spectrum Health v Titan, an unpublished decision from the Court of Appeals released October 20, 2009, the Court addresses the issue of what constitutes ownership of a vehicle under MCL 500.3101(2)(h)(i) in order to determine whether or not a person is entitled to no-fault benefits under MCL 500.3113(b).

Kevin Zoerman and healthcare providers of Kevin Zoerman sought to recover no-fault benefits against Titan Insurance Company which had been assigned the claim by the Assigned Claims Facility. Titan Insurance Company claimed that Mr. Zoerman was not entitled to no- fault benefits when driving his wife’s uninsured vehicle. Titan claimed that he was an owner of the vehicle by virtue of him having use of the vehicle for a period greater than 30 days. As an owner, he had a duty to have the vehicle insured and since it was not insured, he was precluded from no-fault benefits pursuant to MCL 500.3113(b).

MCL 500.3101(2)(h)(i) defines “owner” as:

A person renting a motor vehicle or having the use thereof, under a lease or otherwise, for a period that is greater than 30 days…

The Court of Appeals, quoting Twichel v MIC General Insurance Corporation, noted that the focus is to be on the nature of the person’s right to use the vehicle. With that concept, the Court of Appeals looked to see how Kevin and his wife allowed for use of the car. There was no evidence that Mr. Zoerman had exclusive or even regular use of the vehicle. Evidence indicated that Mr. Zoerman used the vehicle only sporadically during the 14 months that his wife owned the vehicle used the vehicle. Mr. Zoerman did not have the right to use the vehicle whenever he wanted. His wife had the only set of keys and he had to ask permission from his wife to use the vehicle. There were occasions when his wife did not allow him to use the vehicle when he asked. He had to obtain the keys from his wife in order to use the vehicle. Ms. Zoerman purchased the vehicle without his knowledge. His wife had the responsibility for maintenance of the vehicle. Taking these facts into account, the Court of Appeals determined that he did not have ownership of the vehicle.