'Family joyriding' at issue in insurance case before Michigan Supreme Court

Does a "family joyriding" doctrine require auto insurers to pay medical expenses for two drivers who drove family members' cars - despite knowing that the owners had forbidden them to do so?

That is a question the Michigan Supreme Court is considering when hearing oral arguments this week.

In Spectrum Health Hospitals v Farm Bureau, a car owner allowed his son's girlfriend to use his car, but had forbidden his son to drive the car and had also warned the girlfriend not to let the son drive it. But the son, who lacked a valid driver's license, borrowed the car with his girlfriend's permission and got into an accident while legally drunk.

In Progressive Marathon Insurance v DeYoung, a man with four drunk driving convictions was specifically excluded from his wife's auto insurance policy, and she had also forbidden him to drive her car. Despite knowing this, the man took his wife's car without permission and crashed it while driving drunk.

The insurance companies in both cases argued that the injured drivers had "taken unlawfully" in violation of Michigan's No-Fault Act, MCL 500.3113(a), which provides that "A person is not entitled to be paid personal protection insurance benefits for accidental bodily injury if at the time of the accident ... the person was using a motor vehicle or motorcycle which he or she had taken unlawfully ...."

But in both cases, the Michigan Court of Appeals concluded that the "taken unlawfully" provision does not apply to "family joyriding," where a family member borrows a car without permission but without meaning to steal it.

The Court of Appeals judges in Progressive Marathon said they were "acutely aware" that the no-fault act does not provide a family joyriding exception, but said they were constrained by prior appellate decisions that recognized the doctrine.

Published: Thu, Mar 8, 2012

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