X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Given two recent Superior Court of Delaware decisions, it appears that insurers are not responsible for defending or indemnifying a parent whose child commits a tortious act while living under someone else’s roof. In State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Eastburn, the court sided with State Farm when the insurer claimed it did not have to cover a mother whose son allegedly caused a car accident while living with his father. And, in Allstate Insurance Co. v. Laurenzi, the court agreed with Allstate that the insurer was not obligated to a father whose son, according to court records, punched someone while living with his mother. Judge Fred S. Silverman in State Farm ruled that because Clint G. Eastburn was not living with his mother, Robin E. Haldeman, when he allegedly caused a serious accident, Eastburn could not be considered an “insured” for purposes of Haldeman’s State Farm automobile insurance policy. The policy dictated that for relatives to be considered insureds, they had to reside primarily with the policyholder. The court determined that Clint lived primarily with his father. Similarly, Judge Charles H. Toliver IV in Allstate decided the insurer could deny coverage to defendants Terry P., Carol E. and Brian O. Laurenzi because Terry’s mobile home policy applied only to Terry and any relatives or dependents living in his household. Though Brian, who is Terry and Carol’s son, had a room at Terry’s house, he resided primarily with his mother and therefore was not an insured under the policy, the court said. POLICY’S ‘PLAIN LANGUAGE’ The claims in State Farm arose in June 2001 when Eastburn, then a minor with a learner’s permit, allegedly injured Fred Quercetti Jr. in a car crash. The opinion said that under Delaware law, a minor driver’s negligence is imputed to the adult who signed the minor’s license application — in this case, Haldeman. After the accident, Quercetti sued Eastburn, his sister Christie L. Eastburn, who owned the car he was driving at the time of the accident, Gary Eastburn, who is Clint and Christie’s father, and Haldeman, the opinion said. State Farm then filed a complaint against Clint, Christie, Haldeman and Quercetti, contending that it did not have to provide coverage. Silverman’s decision came after State Farm in May requested summary judgment against Clint, Christie and Haldeman. According to the opinion, the question before the court was a narrow one: whether an insurance company must cover a mother who signed her son’s license, even though the son was neither living with her when he allegedly caused a serious accident nor named in her insurance policy. Silverman noted that five or six months before the accident, Clint had moved out of Haldeman’s home to live with his father. His father did not pay child support, and Haldeman did not claim Clint as a dependent on her 2001 tax return, the opinion said. And though she signed Clint’s driver’s license application, Haldeman never added Clint’s name to her State Farm policy, the opinion said. The policy provided that State Farm would pay damages “which an insured becomes legally liable to pay because of: bodily injury to others and damage to or destruction of property … caused by accident resulting from the ownership, maintenance or use of the insured’s car,” the opinion said. Haldeman’s position was that as an insured, she was entitled to coverage for all her liability arising from auto accidents, including liability imposed upon her for damages caused by her son, the opinion said. But the court disagreed, concluding that by its plain language, the insurance policy did not cover every instance in which Haldeman faced liability. “The policy will respond,” Silverman wrote, “but only for liability resulting from Haldeman’s car ownership. Haldeman’s liability here results from her having signed Clint’s license, not from her car ownership.” Silverman said Haldeman could not find relief in the policy’s coverage of a non-owned car used by an insured. Again, he said, “insured” means the named insured as well as her relatives. But “relative,” Silverman reiterated, was defined as someone who was not only related to the policyholder but who also lived primarily with the named insured. NO SINGLE FACTOR DISPOSITIVE Like State Farm, Allstate was before the court on the insurer’s motion for summary judgment. According to the opinion, Brian Laurenzi in January 1999 punched Michael Gieron, injuring Gieron’s jaw and teeth. Gieron’s guardian ad litem filed suit against Brian and his parents, Terry and Carol Laurenzi, who were divorced. At the time of the alleged assault, the opinion said, Brian was living primarily with Carol, though Terry had designated a room for him in his mobile home and claimed him as a dependent on his tax returns. Terry’s mobile home was insured through Allstate, according to the opinion. The opinion said the policy provided “family liability protection,” through which Allstate was obligated to “pay all sums arising from [a] loss which an insured person becomes legally obligated to pay.” An insured person was defined as the policyholder and, if a resident in that person’s household, any relative or dependent person in the policyholder’s care. Allstate was defending the Laurenzis pursuant to a reservation-of-rights provision when it filed a motion for summary judgment in December 2002, according to the opinion. In support of its motion, Allstate argued that Brian was not an insured as defined in the policy and that even if Brian were an insured, the alleged assault was not within the policy’s coverage because it was an intentional act. On the question of whether Brian was an insured under the policy, the court said the policy was not ambiguous even though it did not define the term “resident.” To determine residency, the court looked to related situations, such as automobile coverage cases. According to Toliver, the court has defined a resident as a person who lives under the same roof as the named insured long enough to consider them a family. The opinion listed a number of factors that play into the definition but cautioned that no single factor is dispositive. First, the opinion said, an occupier need not be a permanent member of the policyholder’s household, but he or she must be more than a transient or must intend to stay for more than a temporary period. Second, the court should consider whether another residence exists for the individual seeking coverage, Toliver said. Third, the nature and formality of the relationship between the individual seeking coverage and the policyholder should be scrutinized, the opinion said. And finally, age in terms of the legal maturity of the potential resident must be considered. Here, Toliver said, the primary responsibility for Brian’s care rested with his mother, with whom he resided. The judge noted that Terry believed Carol had custody of Brian and that he had visitation rights. And when Brian did visit, the opinion said, his visits were limited to weekends, holidays or as Carol permitted. Toliver found it insignificant that Terry had designated a room for Brian in his mobile home. According to the court, the room was only said to be Brian’s because no one else needed it. Further, the opinion said, it did not matter that Terry had claimed Brian as a dependent on his tax returns, because claiming a person as a dependent involves criteria distinguishable from residence. “Since Brian is not considered an ‘insured’ under the terms of Mr. Laurenzi’s policy,” the opinion said, “Allstate has no duty to indemnify or pay for any damages or judgments arising from the incident on Jan. 26, 1999.” The opinion also said that because Brian either sought to injure Gieron or disregarded a substantial risk that he would do so, the court was persuaded that the assault was the kind of action that the policy’s intentional acts exclusion removed from coverage.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.