Wednesday, June 16, 2010

No Coverage for a Non-Non-Owned Car

Konstantinou v. Phoenix Ins. Co.
(4th Dept., decided 6/11/2010)

David Thurston was operating his sister Tynette Thurston's Chevy Celebrity when he crashed into the plaintiff's vehicle, killing that vehicle's passenger and seriously injuring its driver.  Plaintiff sued the Thurston siblings and their mother, Brenda Henderson, with whom they allegedly resided.  After obtaining a judgment against the Thurston siblings, plaintiff commenced this action pursuant to New York Insurance Law § 3420(a)(2) and (b)(1) against Henderson's personal auto insurer, Phoenix Insurance Company, for liability coverage under Henderson's policy with Phoenix.  Wayne County Supreme Court (Kehoe, J.) granted Phoenix's motion for summary judgment, dismissing the complaint, and plaintiff appealed.

Henderson's personal auto policy with Phoenix provided:
We will pay damages for which the insured becomes legally responsible because of bodily injury or property damage caused by accident and arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of your car or any non-owned car.
The policy listed Henderson as the only named insured and a Chevrolet Lumina as the only covered vehicle. The policy defined "your car" as, among other things, "any vehicle described on the declarations page of [the] policy." Because the Celebrity was not listed on the declarations page, it was not covered under the "your car" category.

The policy also defined a "non-owned car" as
a land motor vehicle with at least four wheels designed to be used mainly on public roads, or a trailer. However, it must not be owned by or furnished or available for the regular use of you or a relative.
 The policy further explained that "You and your mean the person [listed as the named insured on the declarations page, i.e., Henderson, and that] . . . Relative means your relative, residing in your household."

In AFFIRMING the order granting summary judgment to Phoenix, the Fourth Department concluded that the Celebrity did not qualify as a "non-owned car" under Henderson's policy with Phoenix because it was owned by Tynette Thurston, Henderson's daughter and resident of Henderson's household, and was available for the regular use of David Thurston, Henderson's son and also resident of Henderson's household.  The appellate court also held that the timely disclaimer requirement of New York Insurance Law § 3420(d) did not apply because the Celebrity did not qualify as a covered vehicle under the Phoenix policy, and plaintiff's claim fell outside the scope of coverage of that policy:
Contrary to plaintiff's contention, the court properly determined that the Thurston siblings were relatives of Henderson who resided in her household and that the Celebrity therefore was not a "non-owned car" for which defendant would be required to provide coverage with respect to the accident in question. A person is a resident of a household for insurance purposes if he or she " lives in the household with a certain degree of permanency and intention to remain' " (Matter of State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Cos. v Jackson, 31 AD3d 1171, 1171). Although Tynette Thurston lived at college at the time of the accident, defendant submitted evidence in support of the motion establishing that she was a resident of the household inasmuch as she lived with Henderson during the summers, received mail at Henderson's house, stayed there every other weekend, and listed that address on the Celebrity's title and insurance (see Dutkanych v United States Fid. & Guar. Co., 252 AD2d 537, 538; see also Matter of Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. [Galioto], 266 AD2d 926). Thus, because the Celebrity was owned by a relative of Henderson who was a resident of her household, it was not a "non-owned car" under the terms of the policy entitled to coverage by defendant. 

Moreover, it was undisputed that David Thurston was a relative of Henderson who was a resident of her household, and defendant submitted evidence in support of the motion establishing that the Celebrity was available for his regular use inasmuch as he had unrestricted access to the Celebrity while Tynette Thurston was at college and had used it several times prior to the accident (see generally Newman v New York Cent. Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 8 AD3d 1059, 1060). Thus, the Celebrity also was not a "non-owned car" within the meaning of the policy because it was available for the regular use of a relative of Henderson who was a resident of her household. 

Contrary to plaintiff's further contention, the Celebrity is not entitled to coverage under Henderson's policy with defendant on the ground that defendant failed to disclaim coverage in a timely manner. It is well established that "[d]isclaimer pursuant to [Insurance Law § ] 3420 (d) is unnecessary when a claim falls outside the scope of the policy's coverage portion. Under those circumstances, the insurance policy does not contemplate coverage in the first instance, and requiring payment of a claim upon failure to timely disclaim would create coverage where it never existed" (Matter of Worcester Ins. Co. v Bettenhauser, 95 NY2d 185, 188; see State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v Whiting, 53 AD3d 1033, 1035; see generally Zappone v Home Ins. Co., 55 NY2d 131, 137-139).

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