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With the weather turning colder, more snow birds are headed south, and that could lead to more out of state accidents. A recent unpublished opinion by the Michigan Court of Appeals reiterates that no-fault can still count when the injury happens out of state.
Michigan winters can be tough. Many of Michigan’s older residents choose to head south for the winter, to warmer climates like Florida or Arizona. When they do, they take their no-fault auto insurance policies with them. But when an out of state accident happens, will a snowbird be entitled to no-fault PIP benefits? A recent unpublished Michigan Court of Appeals decision, Home-Owners Insurance Company v Ramp, says yes.
Daniel and Peggy ramp are Michigan residents who own a condominium in Florida. In March 2014, Daniel Ramp was driving his golf cart in the condo complex after finishing a round of golf. A vehicle struck Ramp at an intersection, and his golf car tipped over, pinning Daniel’s leg.
Daniel filed a claim for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits under his no-fault policy because his injuries were the result of the use of a motor vehicle. The insurance company denied his claim and filed a lawsuit asking the court to determine he was ineligible for benefits.
It was the insurance company’s position that, because the accident happened out of state, it was only liable for no-fault benefits paid for accidents involving both an insured person and the car covered by the policy. Even though the Ramps had an explicit motorized golf cart coverage endorsement, the insurance company said that because he didn’t own the vehicle involved in the accident, he wasn’t entitled to benefits. It said he was excluded from coverage because the vehicle he was occupying did not have no-fault insurance.
The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed. It looked at out of state accident coverage under MCL 500.3111, which says:
“Personal protection insurance benefits are payable for accidental bodily injury suffered in an accident occurring out of this state, if the accident occurs within the United States, its territories and possessions or in Canada, and the person whose injury is the basis of the claim was at the time of the accident a named insured under a personal protection insurance policy, his spouse, a relative of either domiciled in the same household or an occupant of a vehicle involved in the accident whose owner or registrant was insured under a personal protection insurance policy or has provided security approved by the secretary of state under [MCL 500.3111.]”
The court emphasized that there were two disjunctive requirements:
The insurance company was trying to read these requirements together, requiring both the named insured be injured and the vehicle be insured. But this was inappropriate. The court said:
“Accordingly, the plain language of the statute reveals a legislative intent to entitle a person to personal protection insurance benefits when he is at the time of the accident a named insured under a personal protection insurance policy or an occupant of a vehicle involved in the accident whose owner or registrant was insured under a personal protection insurance policy.”
Mr. Ramp met those requirements. The out of state accident happened in Florida and Daniel was a named insured on the policy at the time of the accident. Regardless of whether the golf cart was a covered motor vehicle, Ramp is entitled to PIP no-fault benefits.
The Home Owners Ins Co case shows the kind of insincere resistance the insurance companies use to limit coverage of out of state accidents. The language of MCL 500.3111 could not be more clear. But the insurance companies will create exclusions and exemptions where they don’t exist to deny accident victims’ benefits.
When representing an out of state accident victim it is important to take a close look at the no-fault policy. Ensure that your clients are named insureds or that the vehicle involved is covered. In either case, expect insurance companies to throw up obstacles to benefits, like they did to the Ramps.
David Christensen is an auto accident attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He represents out of state accident victims with Michigan no-fault policies. If your clients are facing a tough legal question, contact Christensen Law today for a referral.