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A Better Partnership
April 21, 2016

“Cousins by marriage” are not treated as a “relative” under no-fault

Two relatives completely unrelated by blood, but who have other blood relatives that married each other, do not satisfy the definition of “relative” under no-fault, according to the Michigan Court of Appeals in Lewis v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, No. 324744
On October 26, 2012, plaintiff Valencia Lewis was injured as a pedestrian during a hit-and-run car accident.  Lewis did not own a vehicle covered by no-fault insurance but, at the time, she lived with her relative Tamekia Gordon who owned a Ford Expedition that was insured under a no-fault policy issued by Farmers Insurance.  Gordon’s no-fault policy covered her family members if they were “a person related to [the insured] by blood, marriage or adoption who is a resident of [the insured’s] household.”  Lewis filed suit against Farmers Insurance asserting that she qualified for coverage as Gordon’s relative and it failed to pay the benefits she was entitled.
During discovery, Lewis was deposed twice and at the second deposition she described Gordon as her cousin through the marriage of her paternal aunt to Gordon’s paternal uncle.  Defendant asserted that Lewis failed to qualify as Gordon’s relative because she was admittedly unrelated to Gordon by blood, and as a matter of law, she was unrelated by marriage.  Lewis argued that she and Gordon are cousins by marriage, which is a degree of familial relation that at least establishes a genuine issue of material fact to be decided by the trier of fact.  The trial court denied defendant’s motion for summary disposition and found that Lewis is a relative of Gordon under no-fault and the insurance policy language.
The Court of Appeals reasoned that a relationship by affinity or marriage consists of the relation existing as a result of marriage between each of the married persons and the blood relatives.  A husband is related, by affinity, to all the blood relatives of his wife, and the wife is related, by affinity, to all the blood relatives of the husband.  As a result, the Court of Appeals concluded that Lewis’s relationship to Gordon does not fall within the common understanding of relatives by affinity because the relationship between “cousins by marriage” is not recognized under Michigan law.  Therefore, the court held that the insurance policy does not expand coverage to Lewis and reversed the trial court, granting summary disposition in favor of defendant. 

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