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March 24, 2020
In a recent unpublished Court of Appeals decision, Mobley v USAA Casualty Ins. Co., the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision granting defendant’s motion for summary disposition and held that plaintiff could not avail herself of PIP benefits under her son’s policy because she was not domiciled at her son’s residence at the time of the accident.
Prior to the accident, Plaintiff lived with her husband for 18 years. But in August of 2016, she moved in with her son after a disagreement with her husband. She had brought clothing and other personal items with her and was paying her son $50 a week to help with bills. She did not change her address on her driver’s license. Plaintiff’s son added plaintiff to his USAA policy as an “additional operator” on September 3, 2016. The policy was effective September 3, 2016 through December 9, 2016. On September 16, 2016, plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident while driving a vehicle owned by a family friend. At the time of the accident, plaintiff informed the responding officers that she lived at her husband’s address and by the time her lawsuit was filed, she had moved back in with her husband.
Plaintiff filed for PIP benefits under her son’s policy, USAA denied the claim, and plaintiff sued. USAA moved for summary disposition arguing that plaintiff was not a “named insured” on her son’s policy and she was not domiciled at her son’s residence at the time of the accident. The trial court granted USAA’s motion. On appeal, plaintiff argued that the trial court erred because she was domiciled with her son at the time of the accident and she was listed as an “operator” on his policy.
Michigan’s no-fault statute provides that “a personal protection policy . . . applies to accidental bodily injury to the person named in the policy, the person’s spouse, and a relative of either domiciled in the same household, if the injury arises from a motor vehicle accident.” MCL 500.3114(1). This provision requires that a “relative” of the insured must be “domiciled in the same household” as the insured to recover no-fault benefits from the insurer. Grange Ins Co v Lawrence, 494 Mich 475, 490-492; 835 NW2d 636 (2013).
When determining whether a relative is “domiciled in the same household” as an insured, the following factors can be considered:
(1) The subjective or declared intent of the person of remaining, either permanently or for an indefinite or unlimited length of time, in the place he contends is his “domicile” or “household”; (2) the formality or informality of the relationship between a person and the members of the household; (3) whether the place where the person lives is in the same house, within the same curtilage or upon the same premises; (4) the existence of another place of lodging by the person alleging “residence” or “domicile” in the household[.] [Workman v Detroit Inter-Ins Exchange, 404 Mich 477, 496-497; 274 NW2d 373 (1979) (citations omitted).]
In applying these factors, the Court found that there was no material question of fact that plaintiff’s domicile was at her marital home with her husband. With regard to the first factor, the Court reasoned that the intent of plaintiff was to return to her marital home based on her testimony that she had temporarily lived with her son on several earlier occasions following arguments with her husband, that she always returned to her marital home, and that she indeed returned to her marital home one month after this accident. The second factor was not an issue because plaintiff had an informal living arrangement with her son. The third factor was favorable to plaintiff’s argument because she lived in the same house as her son. But the fourth factor weighed heavily against plaintiff because she left her furniture at her marital home, she never changed her address on her driver’s license, and she listed her marital home address as her primary address after the subject accident.
Plaintiff next argued that she was entitled to benefits as a “family member” on her son’s policy. The Court disagreed on the basis that the policy defines “family member” as “a person related to [the named insured] by blood, marriage, or adoption who resides primarily in the household” and plaintiff did not reside primarily in the household of her son, USAA’s insured.
Plaintiff also argued that she was entitled to PIP benefits as the “additional covered person” endorsement on her son’s policy. The Court disagreed because plaintiff was not driving her son’s covered automobile and the policy language plainly excluded coverage for an automobile other than the covered automobile. Lastly, plaintiff argued that she was entitled to uninsured motorist benefits under her son’s policy. The Court again noted that she was not entitled to benefits as a “family member” of the insured, because by not residing primarily in the household of USAA’s insured, she did not meet the policy definition of a “family member.”
USAA was defended in this matter in the trial court by Garan Lucow Miller’s Lisa Screen, and in the appellate court by Garan Lucow Miller’s Daniel Saylor.
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Sarah Nadeau, Editor of The Garan Report Publication, is a Shareholder in our Detroit Office. Sarah can be reached at 313.446.1530 or firstname.lastname@example.org