Michael Izenbaard hosted a bachelor party for Nathan Kadau. The two decided to take Michael’s ATV out for a spin with two other partygoers. Michael drove. Nathan stood in the vehicle’s bed.
All was going well until Izenbaard turned onto a dirt path owned by Consumers Energy. The ATV flipped. Kadau was injured.
Kadau sued Izenbaard and his wife. Izenbaard contacted his homeowners insurer, Fremont. Fremont named the Izenbaards and Kadau as defendants in a declaratory judgment action.
The policy provision at issue, in a nutshell, provided that an “insured location” is the insured’s “residence premises,” and also is “any premises used by you in connection with” the residence premises.
Fremont thought it was in good shape in the trial court. The accident occurred about 1,000 feet away from Izenbaard’s house on property owned by someone else. And the property can’t be a “premises” because there are no buildings on it.
The trial court said that coverage must be provided if the accident occurred on a “premises” used in connection with Izenbaard’s residence.
The trial court seized on the word “premises” and observed that courts and dictionaries have defined the word in various ways, and the policy didn’t define the word at all.
The court concluded that the term “premises” was ambiguous and must be construed against Fremont and in favor of coverage for Kadau’s accident.
Fremont fared better in the Court of Appeals.
We’ve got an issue of first impression, said the COA. There is no published Michigan case addressing the matter, the COA observed.
And, the unpublished Court of Appeals opinions and authority from other jurisdictions that the parties cited didn’t “specifically address the meaning of the term ‘premises,'” the COA explained in Fremont Ins. Co. v. Izenbaard, et al., an unpublished per curiam opinion.
The COA consulting several dictionaries. Definitions of “premises” contemplate buildings on land. A “structure” can be a building but it can also be other things, like the power lines and towers that ran along the dirt trail on which Kadau was injured.
Because “premises” is defined in terms of buildings and land, not structures and land, the dirt trail was not a premises even though there were structures on it, the COA concluded.
So, the COA ruled, Fremont is off the hook.
The decision is a decent exercise in construing a contract, but it left a loose end.
If there’s no published authority in Michigan, and nothing on point from other jurisdictions (in other words, no binding precedent) why continue to add to a growing body of persuasive authority on the issue?
Why not issue the decision for publication?