Michigan Coverage Decisions, Issue 18

Wert v Citizens Insurance Company

Published. Decided December 5, 2000. Michigan Supreme Court Number 117080.

Plaintiff was injured while riding his motorcycle. The driver of the automobile involved in the accident was uninsured. Plaintiff had uninsured motorist coverage in the amount of $20,000 for the motorcycle. He also had another vehicle with uninsured motorist coverage in the amount of $100,000 with defendant insurer. Plaintiff received the full policy limits from the insurer of the motorcycle. Defendant denied coverage on the basis of an “other owned vehicle” exclusion which eliminated coverage where the insured was occupying any motor vehicle owned by the insured and not insured under that particular policy. Plaintiff brought suit for a declaration that defendant insurer was obligated to pay under the underinsured motorist coverage. The Trial Court held in favor of plaintiff and entered judgment against defendant. Defendant insurer appealed and the Court of Appeals, by a 2 to 1 majority, affirmed the Trial Court finding that defendant’s policy was ambiguous and plaintiff was entitled to coverage. The Court’s reasoning was that because defendant’s policy defined an uninsured motor vehicle to exclude motorcycles, that it was reasonable to interpret the policy’s use of the phrase “motor vehicle” contained in the “other owned vehicle” exclusion to not include motorcycles.

In this decision, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals for the reasons contained in the dissent in the Court of Appeals. In that dissent, “motor vehicle” was found to include motorcycles.

[su_box title=”Kallas & Henk Note”] We reported on this case in our August 2000 issue when the Court of Appeals issued its decision. This is what we said at the time: “The reasoning of the majority in this case is dubious. The Michigan Supreme Court has specifically held that the term “motor vehicle” includes motorcycles. The majority in this case used torturous reasoning to reach its conclusions. The dissent is much better reasoned. If an application for leave to appeal is made to the Supreme Court and they accept this case, we would anticipate a reversal of this decision. [/su_box]

 

Snider v State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company

Unpublished. Decided December 5, 2000. Michigan Court of Appeals Docket Number 219109.

In this first party action, Plaintiff was injured while sitting in a lawn chair at a fireworks display. He was struck by shrapnel when fireworks exploded on a flatbed trailer. The vehicle towing the trailer was apparently uninsured. Plaintiff made a claim with his own insurer for no-fault and uninsured motorist benefits. The Trial Court held that Plaintiff was not entitled to recover under the uninsured motorist coverage because the trailer was not a “land motor vehicle” and not entitled to recover first party no-fault benefits because the injuries did not arise out of the use of a motor vehicle.

The Court of Appeals affirmed agreeing with the Trial Court that the injury from the fireworks was not as a result of a land motor vehicle which is required for uninsured motorist coverage. Additionally, the Court of Appeals held that first party no-fault benefits were not available because the injuries did not arise out of the use of a motor vehicle.

[su_box title=”Kallas & Henk Note”] In analyzing the uninsured motorist coverage issue, the Court of Appeals relied on prior decisions which state that definitions applicable to no-fault provisions may not be used in interpreting similar or identical phrases in other types of coveragessuch as uninsured motorist coverage. In this case, the Plaintiff attempted to use the definition of motor vehicle contained in the no-fault act to attempt to obtain coverage under the uninsured motorist provisions.  [/su_box]

 

Lathrup Investment Company v West American Insurance Company et al

Unpublished. Decided December 15, 2000. Michigan Court of Appeals Docket Number 212269.

Plaintiff’s building was destroyed by fire. Defendant property insurer denied coverage apparently on the basis that there was no insurance in effect on the date of the loss. Plaintiff brought this action and alleged, among other things, that the Defendant insurer was equitably estopped from denying coverage. The Trial Court granted summary disposition to Defendant on the basis that Equitable Estoppel cannot be affirmatively used as a cause of action and provides no remedy.

The Court of Appeals affirmed finding that the Doctrine of Equitable Estoppel may only be used in defense of an action or in response to an affirmative defense.

[su_box title=”Kallas & Henk Note”] This decision from the Court of Appeals does not have a good recitation of the facts in the underlying action so it is difficult to analyze the import of this decision. It is a reasonable assumption that Defendant either cancelled coverage prior to the incident or a policy expired prior to the incident and was not renewed. Plaintiff was attempting to use the legal Doctrine of Equitable Estoppel to obtain reimbursement for losses sustained in the fire. The decision does recite the elements necessary to establish equitable estoppel as follows: (1) the Defendant’s acts or representations induced Plaintiff to believe that coverage was in effect at the time, (2) Plaintiff justifiably relied on this belief and (3) Plaintiff was prejudiced as a result of belief that the policy was in effect. [/su_box]

 

Fadil v Titan Insurance Company

Unpublished. Decided December 26, 2000. Michigan Court of Appeals Docket Number 212805.

Plaintiff’s automobile insurance policy expired, by its own terms, on November 14, 1995 at 12:01 AM. A renewal notice was sent to Plaintiff stating that the premium for their renewal was due by November 14, 1995. Plaintiff failed to send in the premium by the required date and an accident occurred on November 14, 1995 at 10:35 AM. Plaintiff did pay his premium on November 16, 1995. Defendant denied coverage and Plaintiff initiated this action for coverage.

The Trial Court granted Defendant summary disposition on the basis that the contract required payment by November 14 in order to maintain uninterrupted coverage and that Plaintiff failed to comply with his contractual requirement. The Court of Appeals affirmed finding that there was no ambiguity between the terms of the policy (expiration date and time) and the renewal letter.

[su_box title=”Kallas & Henk Note”] In an interesting discussion, the Court of Appeals did find that, under its interpretation of the renewal notice, Plaintiff would have uninterrupted coverage if he had paid the renewal premium on November 14, 1995. The Court interpreted the term “by” to mean “on or before” and not before. It is probable the insurer intended that the premium must be received before the expiration of the policy so as to avoid a circumstance where the insured could purchase coverage after an accident. According to the Court of Appeals, had the Plaintiff paid the premium in the afternoon of November 14, 1995, after the accident, he would have had uninterrupted coverage and the renewal policy would have applied. It is not likely that the insurer intended such a result.  [/su_box]

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