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July 17, 2019
In Dye v Esurance Property & Casualty Ins Co  the Michigan Supreme Court overruled the Court of Appeals decision in Barnes v Farmers Ins Exchange and held that MCL 500.3113(b) does not bar the owner or registrant of a motor vehicle from receiving PIP benefits for failure to insure that vehicle so long as that vehicle is listed on some no-fault policy, even if the person who obtained that policy does not qualify as an owner or registrant of the vehicle.
Matthew Dye (“Dye”) purchased a vehicle and requested that his father register it in Dye’s name at the Secretary of State’s office. Dye’s father insured Dye’s vehicle with Esurance, and Esurance issued a policy listing only Dye’s father as the named insured. At the time, Dye was living with his wife, who owned a Dodge Caravan insured by GEICO. After sustaining injuries in a motor vehicle accident, Dye filed a claim for PIP benefits, which both Esurance and GEICO denied. After filing suit, a priority dispute began between the two insurers. Esurance paid more than $388,000 in PIP benefits but maintained the position that GEICO was higher in priority. GEICO acknowledged responsibility to pay Dye’s PIP benefits, and settlement negotiations started; however, these came to a halt once the Barnesdecision was announced, which held that under MCL 500.3113(b) PIP benefits are not available to owners or registrants of motor vehicles who fail to maintain no-fault insurance on those vehicles, unless another owner or registrant maintains a no-fault policy listing the vehicle. GEICO, relying on Barnes, stopped all settlement discussions, and the priority dispute between Esurance and GEICO now became a debate over Dye’s entitlement to any PIP benefits.
Esurance filed a cross-claim against GEICO for breach of the settlement agreement. GEICO moved for summary disposition of Dye’s claim based on Barnes. Dye also moved for summary disposition, arguing that Barnes was wrongly decided and that he was, regardless, still entitled to PIP benefits because his father was an owner since he had registered the vehicle and had the right to use it. The trial court granted Esurance’s motion for summary disposition, holding that GEICO had priority, denied GEICO’s dispositive motion, and granted Dye’s motion for summary disposition, finding that it did not need to address the Barnesdecision and that Dye’s father was an owner and registrant of the vehicle.
On appeal, the trial court’s decision in favor of Esurance was reversed, and the decision in favor of Dye was reversed and remanded to the trial court to explore leftover questions regarding the status of Dye’s father as an “owner” of the vehicle. After all the parties filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, only Dye’s was granted.
The Court reviewed Iqbal v Bristol West Ins Group, which involved a plaintiff who frequently drove his brother’s car, thereby becoming a constructive owner. The Iqbal Court held that it was irrelevant whether it was the plaintiff or his brother (the titled owner of the vehicle), who maintained insurance on the vehicle-what was required was that the vehicle be insured by a policy of no-fault insurance. Iqbal was subsequently distinguished by Barnes, which construed Iqbal to mean that at least one of the owners of a vehicle would be required to maintain no-fault insurance on it. Barnes involved a plaintiff who co-owned a vehicle with her mother but asked a third party to insure it, and thus the Barnes decision was different because a non-owner was the named insured.
After clarifying the law established by Iqbal and Barnes, the Dye Court concluded that MCL 500.3101(1) requires only that the owner or registrant of a vehicle “maintain” no-fault insurance, noting that the statute does not specify any particular manner in which to do so. Relying on the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary‘s definition of “maintain,” the Court held that the only requirement is that no-fault insurance be “kept in an existing state.” The Court further held that the word “which” in the portion of MCL 500.3113(b) that reads “with respect to which the security required by section 3101 or 3103 was not in effect,” referred to the vehicle and not the person.
In sum, the Court held that Barnes was incorrectly decided, as Iqbal held that PIP benefits are available as long as the vehicle is insured, regardless of who obtains the policy of insurance. Barnes and caselaw consistent with it have now been overruled, and it is now Michigan law that the owner or registrant of a vehicle is not precluded from recovering PIP benefits even if it is a non-owner who “maintains” no-fault insurance on the vehicle.
 __ Mich __ (2019), available at:
 308 Mich App 1 (2014).
 278 Mich App 31 (2008).
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