Erin Moore, shareholder at Green & Green, Lawyers, was successful in representing her client’s position on coverage in a recent appellate decision. The court held in her favor that a family member cannot “reside with” a deceased policy holder for purposes of underinsured motorist coverage in a non-owned automobile. Sound simple? It was a question decided recently by the Twelfth District Court of Appeals in favor of Home-Owners Insurance Company in Collins v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co., 2017-Ohio-880.
Home-Owners provided automobile insurance to Glenn Collins, including terms for underinsured motorist coverage, prior and up to Glenn’s death in August, 2013. Glenn’s last policy term had been paid for shortly prior to his death. Jon Collins was Glenn’s adult son and had lived with Glenn prior to Glenn’s death and continued to live in his father’s house after Glenn died. Unfortunately, Jon was involved in an accident with another vehicle in October, 2013, while driving his nephew’s truck, which was not insured under Glenn’s auto policy with Home-Owners. The other driver involved in the accident had lower automobile liability limits than the underinsured motorist coverage limit included in Glenn’s policy and Jon claimed injuries in excess of those liability limits. As a result, Jon made a claim for underinsured motorist coverage to Home-Owners under Glenn’s policy.
The underinsured motorist provision in Glenn’s policy extended coverage to individuals injured while operating a vehicle owned by another and not insured under that policy in limited circumstances. The only circumstance relevant to Jon’s claims was if that person fell within the definition of “relative” contained in the policy. The definition of relative in the Home-Owners policy required not only that the person making the claim be related to the named insured, but also required that the person “reside with” the named insured.
In a split decision, the Twelfth District Court of Appeals held that the phrase “reside with” in the policy definition of “relative” requires the person to be presently dwelling with the named insured at the time of the accident and further found this term was not ambiguous. The court concluded that since Glenn had died two months before the accident in which Jon was injured, Jon was not “residing with” Glenn at the time of the accident and therefore did not qualify as a “relative” as defined by the policy. In reaching this conclusion the court analyzed a number of decisions addressing similar, but not identical, definitions and distinguished them. It also rejected an argument that because Jon was a “rated driver” on the policy, (but not a named insured), he was entitled to coverage. The court went on to find that a separate exclusion contained in the underinsured motorist provisions also acted to preclude coverage for Jon’s claims under the circumstances, and, that the policy was not illusory because it did continue to provide coverage for various circumstances under both the liability and underinsured motorist provisions, just not the circumstance presented by Jon Collins.
Home-Owners Insurance Company was represented in this matter by Green & Green shareholder, Erin Moore. Erin practices regularly in the area of insurance coverage matters, as well as representing insured individuals and entities, as well as private parties, in litigation.