Michigan’s No-Fault Act generally requires Michigan residents to purchase no-fault insurance for vehicles they own or operate in Michigan. It also requires insurers who sell auto insurance in Michigan to pay no-fault benefits to their insuredout-of-state residents who are injured while in Michigan. In Tienda v Integon Nat’l Ins Co, the issue was which insurer was obligated to pay the plaintiffs’ no-fault benefits. The answer turned on the residence of a person who admittedly has no permanent residence at all–a migrant farm worker.
The Court of Appeals held that a migrant worker is a Michigan resident when he or she currently lives in Michigan and does not maintain a place of lodging or place to keep his belongings outside of Michigan. The result: An insurer who sold a North Carolina auto policy to a migrant farm worker was not responsible for Michigan no-fault benefits arising from a car accident in Michigan that involved the migrant farm worker’s vehicle.
The plaintiffs, Gerardo Tienda and Silvia Gomez, were injured in an auto accident while passengers of a vehicle owned by Salvador Lorenzo. They filed an action seeking Michigan personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits against Integon National Insurance Company because it had issued a North Carolina auto insurance policy to Lorenzo. Lorenzo and the plaintiffs were migrant farm workers. For the prior four years, they had cycled between Florida, North Carolina, and Michigan for various harvest seasons.
Though Integon initially paid the plaintiffs’ PIP claims, it stopped and the plaintiffs’ claim was assigned to Titan Insurance Company through Michigan’s Assigned Claims Facility. The plaintiffs also filed a lawsuit against Integon in which Titan was allowed to intervene. Both Intego and Titan filed motions for summary disposition, arguing that the other was responsible for the PIP benefits. The trial court ruled that Integon was responsible for the PIP benefits and Integon appealed.
Integon had filed a certificate of compliance pursuant to Michigan’s no-fault act. When an insurer does so, it agrees that it will pay PIP benefits for any injury arising from an auto accident that involved a vehicle that is owned, operated, maintained or used “by an out-of-state resident who is insured under its automobile liability insurance policies.” In other words, if the insured is a Michigan resident, the insurer is not responsible for PIP under an out-of-state policy. A Michigan resident must obtain a Michigan auto insurance policy. Accordingly, Lorenzo’s residency was “the central, dispositive question in this case.”
The residency issue was made difficult because Lorenzo admittedly did not have an intention to stay in any one state longer than a few months. Earlier cases defining a “residence” included an element of permanency – e.g., “that place where a person has voluntarily fixed his abode not for a mere special or temporary purpose, but with a present intention of making it his home, either permanently or for an indefinite or unlimited length of time.” Those definitions were largely unhelpful because Lorenzo had no intent to make a permanent home and the duration of his stay wasn’t indefinite, it was tied to the harvest season.
Ultimately, the Court was persuaded that Michigan had to be Lorenzo’s place of residence at the time of the accident because that is where he lived at the time. Lorenzo did not have any other place of lodging or any other location where he kept his belongings. He had no other address where he could receive mail. The trial court had reasoned that Lorenzo was a Florida resident because he was there the longest. But the Court of Appeals rejected that analysis. The length of Lorenzo’s stay was merely a function of Florida’s longer harvest season. Lorenzo always intended to leave Florida and did not maintain any presence there after he left.
Because Lorenzo was a Michigan resident, Integon was not responsible for the plaintiffs’ PIP benefits. They were paid instead by Titan, the insurer appointed by the Assigned Claims Facility.