Michigan Supreme Court to Weigh Merits of ‘Joyriding’ Exception

The Michigan Supreme Court is looking on Tuesday at whether courts in the state should consider valid a “family joyriding” doctrine that makes it so that insurers have to pay for damages in crashes where “a family member borrows a car without permission but without meaning to steal it.”

The exception was used in two recent Michigan court cases that the state Supreme Court will be taking into consideration. In both cases, the insurers argued that they were free from liability because the family members who took the vehicles did so “unlawfully.”

This distinction is important because both Michigan car insurance policies included exclusions saying that drivers of vehicles covered under the policies will not receive personal injury protection (PIP) benefits after a crash if they had taken the car unlawfully.

Progressive Marathon Insurance v. DeYoung

In the case of Progressive Marathon Insurance v. DeYoung, Ryan DeYoung took his wife’s car, which had been insured by Progressive Marathon, without consent even though he had not been licensed since he was 17 years old, has four drunk driving convictions, was listed as an excluded driver on the policy and had been forbidden from driving the automobile.

DeYoung ended up crashing the car while driving drunk and was taken to the hospital for serious injuries, according to court documents.

After filing for PIP benefits, Progressive denied the claim on the grounds that he had taken the car unlawfully.

The medical care providers who treated DeYoung and sought reimbursement for the care were the ones who first argued that the joyriding exception should apply.

The lower court ruled that it was not applicable in this case because the driver was specifically excluded in the policy, but an appeals court reversed and remanded the case.

Spectrum Health Hospitals v. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance

The situation was slightly more complicated in the case of Specturm Health Hosptials v. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance.

In this case, Craig Smith Jr. had not been given permission from his father to drive the father’s car. The father had entrusted the car to the younger Smith’s girlfriend and told her that she was not to allow Craig Jr. to drive it.

But she did end up giving Craig Jr. permission to take the car, despite his father’s wishes and the fact that he had no valid driver’s license, according to court documents.

He ultimately drove intoxicated and crashed into a tree, injuring himself in the process.

Like Progressive Marathon, Farm Bureau argued that he had taken the vehicle unlawfully and that the insurer should not have to pay for the damages.

But documents made available by the state Supreme Court show the trial court that first heard the case decided the girlfriend had been “empowered to grant others permission to operate the vehicle” and that the family joyriding exception applied.

Both Progressive Marathon and Farm Bureau have brought the cases to the Supreme Court for a final ruling.

About John Pirro
John Pirro is a licensed fire and casualty insurance agent specializing in various aspects of the auto insurance industry. He worked in the auto body repair industry before taking a reporting position at Online Auto Insurance News.

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