Lawyers’ Corner Agency & Notice in Brooks v Starr Indemnity & Liability Co

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To whom does an injured motorist have to give notice after an auto accident? A recent unpublished Michigan Court of Appeals case looks at the issue of agency and notice to decide whether a plaintiff was entitled to recovery more than one year later.

When a client contacts an auto accident attorney after a car crash, one of the first priorities is making sure all the right insurance companies receive notice of the claim. Especially when clients delay hiring an attorney, it can be a race to make sure notice is provided in time to cover all your client’s injuries.

In Brooks v Starr Indemnity & Liability Co, the Michigan Court of Appeals considered who can give, and receive, notice of a possible claim after a car accident.

On May 24, 2012, two sisters were riding in a Budget rental car when they were rear-ended in a chain reaction accident. The next day, the driver filed an accident/incident report form with Budget Rent A Car System, Inc. The report included the names, addresses, phone numbers, and ages of all occupants and described the injuries sustained. She also provided a police report. The driver was given a claim number and told the report would be provided to the insurance.

Brooks initially filed a lawsuit on January 22, 2013, against Starr Indemnity & Liability Co., the insurance provider that covered her vehicle. After it was discovered she did not reside with the policy holder (her mother), she filed an amended complaint on August 14, 2013, adding Budget Rent A Car System, Inc., and then a second amended complaint on August 28, 2013, changing that name to PV Holdings.

Who Can Give and Receive Notice

MCL 500.3145(1) requires notice of injury be “given to the insurer or any of its authorized agents by a person claiming to be entitled to benefits therefor, or by someone in his behalf.” The court determined that a question of fact existed as to whether Budget and PV Holdings were the same legal entity. While PV Holdings provided an affidavit summarily stating they were not, Brooks provided evidence suggesting they were. The court also raised a question of ostensible agency, where a reasonable person could believe the actions of the principal established authority in the agent. The question of fact was enough to vacate an order for summary disposition and remand the matter for trial.

The fact that the driver provided notice was irrelevant since she was acting on Brooks’s behalf. Also, the notice was sufficient even if it didn’t explicitly state benefits were being sought.

Because of the timing, the success of Brooks’s case hinges on a trial court finding on whether Budget and PV Holdings are the same entity or have an ostensible agency relationship. If they do, the driver’s notice is enough to initiate the investigation. Otherwise, Brooks and Starr Indemnity could be out of luck.

David Christensen is an auto accident attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He represents the victims of auto accidents against auto insurance companies and at-fault drivers. If your client has a complex no-fault issue, contact Christensen Law today for a referral.