Earlier this year, Judge Moon in the Western District of Virginia issued a summary judgment opinion helpful for insureds on a frequently-appearing coverage issue — who is resident in a household. Dawson v. Auto-Owners Insurance Company, U.S.D.C., W.D.Va., Case 6:07cv00037.
By law in Virginia, uninsured motorist coverage extends to all resident relatives of the same household. The Virginia Supreme Court has addressed several times what puts someone in or out of that category. While providing guidance, the approach is fact-intensive, with no true bright line rules. Therefore, each new case helps further refine who might be a resident relative and thus entitled to coverage.
Here, the insurance company sought summary judgment that the claimant, Dawson, did not qualify as a resident relative. A little over a year before the accident, Dawson moved out of a house he rented and into his mother’s house. A long-haul trucker, he would work for several weeks before returning to that house for periods ranging from four days to a week. In the year or so before the accident, Dawson spent six to eight non-consecutive weeks there.
He also kept his personal belongings there, including his clothing, records, tools, and motorcycle. Although he occasionally visited friends elsewhere, he stayed exclusively at his mother’s when in town. Dawson had his mail sent to a post office box in the same town, which his daughter checked. His daughter paid his bills through his checking account, which listed his daughter’s house as his address. It was undisputed, however, that he never lived with his daughter at any time prior to the accident.
The carrier compared these facts to those in Allstate Ins. Co. v. Patterson, 344 S.E.2d 890, 893 (Va. 1986). There, Patterson, a motorcycle gang member spent most of his time with the gang in various clubhouses that it owned. He stayed with his parents about ten percent of the year. He kept his personal belongings at the house, and performed some chores when there, but he did not pay board or contribute to expenses. He used that address for his driver’s license, banking, and as his mailing address. The Patterson court found no coverage for Patterson, holding that the “erratic nature of his residential contacts . . . belie his professed intent to make that household his own.” Id. at 892.
Judge Moon found one key difference between Patterson and Dawson — “the majority of time [Dawson] was away from his mother’s home he was working.” Patterson, on the other hand, “had no regular employment and lived at the various clubhouses by choice.” Dawson spent a majority of his free time at his mother’s home. Patterson did not. “Patterson, who was unemployed, had virtually unlimited free time and yet chose to spend over 90 percent of his time at various clubhouses and apartments, contradicting his claim that he viewed himself as living in his parents’ household.” While the amount of time spent it a pace is an important factor, it is not dispositive. What matters is the “regularity and quality of contacts.”
Judge Moon further held that the test had both a subjective and objective aspect. A claimant must “intend to be a member of the policyholder’s household, and must clearly evidence that intention through his actions.”
While not binding authority, Judge Moon’s clear, concise analysis, as well his discussion of Virginia Supreme Court precedents on the subject, are worth reading and citing to other judges and insurance companies when this issue arises, at it so often does.
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John J. Rasmussen founded the Insurance Recovery Law Group, PLC after nearly a decade of working for insurance companies. You can learn more about him and his practice at www.insurance-recovery.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.