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Lawyers’ Corner: Stored Vehicles in MEEMIC Ins Co v Michigan Millers Mutual Ins

When is a vehicle not a vehicle? According to a the Michigan Court of Appeals, a stored vehicle can be excluded from a driver’s no-fault property insurance. In a battle of insurance companies, the recent decision favored comprehensive coverage over no-fault property benefits.

Elder-law attorneys and lawyers working with the disabled need to know about the recently published Michigan Court of Appeals decision, MEEMIC Insurance Company v Michigan Millers Mutual Insurance. The opinion addresses what happens when a non-driver’s vehicle causes property damage.

John Putvin was too ill to drive. He owned several vehicles, including a historic 1966 Corvette, which he kept in a storage facility along with others’ personal property. Because of his health, he hadn’t driven the vehicle for over a year.

In April 2013, a family member went to the storage facility to perform maintenance on the vehicles and prepare them for sale. As he and another person were flushing the Corvette’s fuel lines, gasoline vapors ignited and caused a fire, resulting in $125,000 in personal property damage.

The question for the court was which insurance policy should pay for the damage. MEEMIC Insurance covered the owners of the personal property. Putvin had no-fault policies on other vehicles through Michigan  Millers Mutual  Insurance Company and  Auto-Owners  Insurance  Company. The Corvette was covered by a comprehensive insurance policy through State Farm.

Insurance Requirements for Stored Vehicles

The court reviewed Michigan No-Fault law when it came to non-drivers’ coverage. It summarized the law:

“[T]he Legislature authorized insurers to allow owners or registrants of a motor vehicle that is not driven or moved upon  a  highway  to  delete  the  coverage  required  under  the no-fault  act  and  maintain comprehensive coverage.”

This is precisely what Putvin had done. The stored vehicles were not being driven on a highway. Rather than maintain full no-fault insurance policies on each of his stored vehicles, Putvin had deleted coverage on his stored vehicles, and relied on a comprehensive plan to cover any damage.

Which Insurance Policy Pays?

In most cases, a person’s no-fault property protection insurance policy will cover property damage caused by the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle. But when a driver has stored vehicles where he has deleted no-fault coverage in favor of comprehensive coverage only, the no-fault insurer may be off the hook. It depends on the language of the policy. Under Putvin’s policy, his no-fault provider was not required to cover the damages.

For attorneys representing the disabled, elderly, or other non-drivers, this case provides guidance on how their clients can cover their stored vehicles. That makes this case important for elder lawyers and auto accident attorneys alike.

David Christensen is an auto accident attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He represents the victims of car crashes against the insurance industry. If your client is facing an auto insurance claim, contact Christensen Law for a referral.