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A Better Partnership
May 22, 2014

MSC finds that the application of the prohibition on PIP benefits for the unlawful taking of a vehicle requires a finding of criminal intent

In Rambin v. Allstate Insurance Co., the Michigan Supreme Court held that the misdemeanor “joyriding” statute, MCL 750.414, is not a strict liability crime, but requires that a person taking a vehicle or motorcycle does so knowingly without authority. Rambin was injured in a car accident while riding a motorcycle, but was denied personal protection insurance benefits (also known as “PIP benefits”) because the insurance company claimed that he unlawfully took the motorcycle. The joyriding statute was implicated in Rambin because MCL 500.3113(a) states that an individual who is injured while “using a motor vehicle or motorcycle which he or she had taken unlawfully” is not entitled to PIP benefits. The Court previously held that a person who takes a vehicle in violation of the joyriding statute has unlawfully taken the vehicle for the purposes of MCL 500.3113(a), and Rambin clarified that decision by addressing whether a person must intend to unlawfully take a vehicle. The Court rejected the argument that a person can unlawfully take a vehicle or motorcycle for purposes of MCL 500.3113(a), and consequently foreclose entitlement to PIP benefits, by either knowingly or unknowingly using a vehicle without authorization. The Court relied upon the general disfavor of applying strict liability, which imposes liability regardless of criminal intent, unless there is clear legislative intent for its application. While MCL 500.3113(a) does not have an expressly stated criminal intent requirement, the Court read into the statute a necessary showing of knowingly taking or using a vehicle or motorcycle without authority. The Court noted, however, that MCL 500.3113(a) does not require that the injured party intend to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle or motorcycle. To impose strict liability, the Court reasoned, would punish innocent conduct and unduly deny individuals PIP benefits.
 
The Court ultimately agreed with the Court of Appeals that Rambin would be entitled to PIP benefits if the evidence established that he did not know the motorcycle that he rode at the time of the accident was stolen. The Court, however, reversed the Court of Appeal’s determination that there was no factual dispute regarding Rambin’s knowledge that the motorcycle was stolen, remanding the case to the circuit court for factual findings regarding Rambin’s intent.

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