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141571 - Farmers Ins v Young

Farmers Insurance Exchange,
Patrick W. Bennett
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals
(Wayne – O’Hair, J.)
Rufus Young,
Carl L. Collins
Nicole Williams and Linda Lee,


​This case involves an auto accident in which one of the drivers, Rufus Young, was injured while driving an uninsured Kia; his driving privileges had been suspended since 1983. At issue is whether Young may recover personal protection insurance benefits.

The Kia belonged to Nicole Williams, who was away on vacation at the time of the accident. Williams had asked her cousin Lynda Lee to stay at her house and take care of Williams’ seven-year-old son Jalin. Before leaving, Williams told Lee that the Kia was uninsured. There is a dispute as to whether Williams used the Kia.

While Williams was away, Lee drove the Kia to a party store to buy beer, and then drove with Jalin to Young’s workplace, where she stayed for about 45 minutes drinking beer. When it was time for Lee to leave, she and Young believed that she was too drunk to drive. Young, whose driver’s license had been suspended since the early 1980s, agreed to drive Lee and Jalin to Williams’ home. On the way there, another driver collided with the Kia, injuring Lee and Young and killing Jalin. The other driver was charged criminally and Young received no citation for the accident. None of those involved in the accident, nor their vehicles, were insured.

Young acknowledged that Williams did not give him permission to drive the Kia before she left for her vacation. He testified that, in light of his past driving record, Williams probably would not have allowed him to use the Kia. At trial, however, he testified that he thought that Williams would have approved of his driving the car in light of Lee’s intoxication. Young said he did not know whether Lee had permission to drive the Kia.

Young applied for personal protection insurance benefits for his injuries through the assigned claims facility, and his claim was assigned to Farmers Insurance Exchange. Farmers denied benefits because Young had used Williams’ vehicle without her consent and without a reasonable belief that he was entitled to use the vehicle, owing to his lack of an operator’s license. Farmers filed a complaint for declaratory relief. After a bench trial, the trial court ruled in Farmers’ favor, holding that Young was not lawfully entitled to drive the vehicle because he was unlicensed, and that he was therefore disqualified for benefits under MCL 500.3113(a). MCL 500.3113(a) states that “[a] person is not entitled to be paid personal protection insurance benefits for accidental bodily injury if at the time of the accident any of the following circumstances existed: (a) The person was using a motor vehicle or motorcycle which he or she had taken unlawfully, unless the person reasonably believed that he or she was entitled to take and use the vehicle.”

The Court of Appeals affirmed in a split unpublished per curiam opinion. The evidence established that Young took the vehicle unlawfully for purposes of MCL 500.3113(a), the majority said. Young did not have Williams’ express or implied consent to take the car, and he could not have reasonably believed that he was entitled to use it; accordingly, Young was excluded from personal protection insurance benefits, the majority concluded. The dissenting judge contended that the statutory language “taken unlawfully” would bar Young from benefits only if he intended to take the car for some unlawful use, such as stealing or joyriding. Because the facts suggested that Young drove the car only to take an intoxicated acquaintance home Young was therefore entitled to personal protection insurance benefits, the dissent reasoned. Young appeals.