Friday, November 11, 2011

PerSONa Non Grata Not a Household Resident and Therefore Not an Insured Under the Father's Farmowners Policy

Farm Family Cas. Ins. Co. v Nason

(4th Dept., decided 11/10/2011) 

If your adult son stayed sometimes on your property in a separate but uninsured trailer and sometimes off premises with his girlfriend, did not reside with other members of your family, and was not welcome in your home, could he be considered a member of your household for purposes of qualifying as an insured under your homeowners or farmowners insurance policy?  No, says the Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

Farm Family insured property on which Gerald Nason, Sr., had his home and a dairy business.  Under the terms of that policy, Nason's relatives were insureds only if they were residents of his "household."  Eric Pommerenck died as the result of injuries that he sustained on farm property owned by Nason while examining a hay elevator that had been offered for sale by Nason's son, Gerald R. Nason, Jr., the defendant in this declaratory judgment.  Nason Jr. did not reside exclusively on his father's residence property but also resided at times with his girlfriend at another location.  Pommerenck's estate commenced a wrongful death action against, among others, Nason Sr. and Nason Jr., and Farm Family commenced this action seeking a declaration that it owed no duty to defend or indemnify Nason Jr. in the underlying action on the ground that he was not an insured under its policy. Supreme Court, Erie County (Sedita, J.) denied Farm Family's motion for summary judgment and it appealed.

In REVERSING the lower court's order and declaring that Farm Family was not obligated to defend or indemnify Nason Jr. in the underlying wrongful death action, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, while noting that the undefined term "household" has been characterized as being ambiguous, found that Farm Family has submitted sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that Nason Jr. was not a member of his father's household, and thus did not qualify as an "insured" under his policy with Farm Family at the time of the underlying accident:
"The term household has been characterized as ambiguous or devoid of any fixed meaning in similar contexts . . . and, as such, its interpretation requires an inquiry into the intent of the parties . . . The interpretation must reflect the reasonable expectation and purpose of the ordinary business [person] when making an insurance contract . . . and the meaning which would be given it by the average [person] . . . Moreover, the circumstances particular to each case must be considered in construing the meaning of the term" (General Assur. Co. v Schmitt, 265 AD2d 299, 300 [internal quotation marks omitted]). In addition, "the term should . . . be interpreted in a manner favoring coverage, as should any ambiguous language in an insurance policy" (Rohlin v Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 26 AD3d 749, 750). 

Here, plaintiff established that Nason did not consider defendant to be a member of his household, nor would he have anticipated that defendant would be afforded coverage under his insurance policy inasmuch as defendant lived separately from Nason, either in a trailer on the subject property or with a girlfriend. The trailer was not listed in the policy as an alternate residence. Furthermore, members of the Nason family testified at their respective depositions that defendant did not reside with the other members of the family and, indeed, was not welcome in the family home. Consequently, plaintiff established as a matter of law that defendant was not a member of Nason's household within the meaning of the policy (see Matter of Hartford Ins. Co. of Midwest v Casella, 278 AD2d 417, 418, lv denied 96 NY2d 710; Walburn v State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 215 AD2d 837; cf. Korson v Preferred Mut. Ins. Co., 55 AD3d 879, 880-881), and defendants failed to raise a triable issue of fact (see generally Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562).

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