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Are college students covered by No Fault if injured in a car accident while away at school?

June 3, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

While your child is away at college, is she protected by your auto No Fault  insurance?

College driver MI No Fault

Please note that for this blog I am writing about a “typical” college freshman student.  I’m assuming:

  1. Your child doesn’t have her or his own car on campus – so no auto insurance; and
  2. Your child is not married to someone who does.

Under Michigan’s Auto No Fault law, a child who is away at college is generally considered covered and protected by her parents’ No Fault policy if she qualifies as a “resident relative” of her parents, i.e., a “relative … domiciled in the same household …” (See MCL 500.3114(1))

To determine whether a child who is away at college is, nevertheless, still “domiciled” with her parents for No Fault purposes, Michigan courts have looked at the following factors:

  • “[T]he subjective or declared intent of the claimant to remain indefinitely in the insured’s household.”
  • “[T]he formality of the relationship between the claimant and the members of the household.”
  • “[W]hether the place where the claimant lives is in the same house, within the same cartilage or upon the same premises as the insured.”
  • The “existence of another place of lodging for the person alleging domicile.”
  • “[W]hether the child continues to use the parents’ home as the child’s mailing address.”
  • “[W]hether the child maintains some possessions with the parents.”
  • “[W]hether the child uses the parents’ address on the child’s driver’s license or other [important] documents.”
  • “[W]hether a room is maintained for the child at the parents’ home.”
  • “[W]hether the child is dependent upon the parents for support.” (See Workman v. DAIIE, 404 Mich 477, 496-497; 274 NW2d 373 (1979); Fowler v. Auto Club Ins Ass’n, 254 Mich App 362, 363; 656 NW2d 856 (2002))
  • The following are examples of when a college student has been deemed to be “domiciled” with her or his parents:
  • The college-student “plaintiff kept the majority of his personal possessions at his parents’ home …, used his parents’ address on his … driver’s license, had his own bedroom at his parents’ home, which remained empty in his absence, and returned to [his parents’ home] during holiday breaks and between school years. The evidence further established that plaintiff was financially dependent upon his parents, who were paying for his college education, and that plaintiff’s father claimed him as a dependent on his tax returns.” (Goldstein v. Progressive, Michigan Court of Appeals, 9/27/1996, #175458)
  • The college-student “[p]laintiff was 24 years of age at the time of the accident. Plaintiff maintained and still maintains an apartment in Toledo, Ohio where he works and attends the University of Toledo part-time. He admitted that he had no plans to move back to his parents’ home, but also stated that he considered his parents’ home to be his main residence. His parents maintain a fully furnished bedroom for him at their home, whereas he only has modest furnishings and personal belongings at his apartment. Plaintiff also stores clothing and ‘all kinds of other things’ at his parents’ home. Furthermore, plaintiff was permitted to come and go freely at his parents’ home and returned to his parents’ home for weekends, holidays, and for a period of months after his injury. While plaintiff did receive credit card bills and utility bills at his apartment, he had a Michigan driver’s license with his parents’ address on it and used that address for his employment records, college registration, tax records, and bank statements. In addition, although plaintiff works full time and pays for his own food and rent, his father pays his tuition, car payments and insurance payments. Likewise, his mother is a joint holder on all three of his bank accounts and managed those accounts on his behalf. Finally, when plaintiff was injured, his parents retired his credit card debts, which were approximately $15,000. While plaintiff has taken longer than the traditional four-years to earn his degree and was not able to state with certainty whether he intended to return to his parents’ home upon graduation, the fact that he was attending school and was largely dependent upon his parents for financial support is indicative of the fact that he had not yet fully moved out on his own. Furthermore, his deposition testimony and his use of his parents’ address for his most important documents and mail clearly evince a belief that his permanent residence was with his parents. Therefore, taken as a whole, these factors strongly favor the determination that plaintiff was still domiciled at his parents’ home at the time of the accident.” (Stamm v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, Michigan Court of Appeals, July 19, 2005, #261225)
  • The college student intended to “use her parents’ home as an ‘anchor’ in her life … as a home base.” She has a formal relationship with her parents (and her brother who lived in the home) as contrasted with the “very informal” relationships she’d had with friends and acquaintances with whom she’d lived from time to time. “[I]mportant documents” such as “documents related to [the college student’s] 2000 tax return, her license, the Secretary of State, and car insurance were mailed to her parents’ home.” This included “voter registration,” “car title” documents and “college loan applications.” (Gilmore v. Nationwide Insurance Company, Michigan Court of Appeals, January 15, 2004, #244825)

It’s also important to note that in the past, I’ve written about how insurance agents are taking advantage of college kids who are likely constructive owners of cars in a house with other students. Here’s the issue:

If you’re an out-of-state resident – and if you live out of state and go to school in Michigan then you are an out-of-state resident – and if your car is in Michigan for more than 30 days in any one year, then under Michigan law you are required to both register your car in Michigan and to carry Michigan No-Fault (PIP) insurance.

If the car you drive is in Michigan for more than 30 cumulative days and you are hurt in a car accident here in Michigan, this is the  double whammy that ensues:

  • You will be  disqualified from receiving any Michigan No-Fault PIP benefits.
  • If you are the owner of the vehicle, then you are considered to be driving uninsured.

Stay tuned for another blog post tomorrow on the issue of children and No Fault coverage, specifically whether No Fault covers your millennial child.

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