When the child of separated parents was killed in an automobile accident, the parents both filed claims against their automobile insurance companies, with very different results. The child died after he was struck by a car while he was attempting to cross the street in front of his mother’ s home. The child resided primarily with his mother and visited his father. Because the driver who accidentally struck the child had minimal insurance coverage, both parents filed claims on their own insurance coverage for “uninsured and underinsured” incidents, usually referred to as “UM-UIM” coverage.
Insurance companies that sell automobile insurance in Pennsylvania are required to offer all customers the option of adding UM-UIM coverage to their policies. If your current policy includes UM-UIM coverage, the uninsured coverage pays for your losses if you are injured by a driver who has no insurance or by an unidentifiable or hit-and-run driver. The underinsured coverage pays for your losses if you are injured by someone who does not have enough of his or her own liability insurance to pay for all the injuries you may suffer. You can “stack” the UM-UIM coverage available for vehicles on your policy and thereby carry substantial coverage to protect yourself and your family. You have the option of waiving the purchase and the stacking of UM-UIM coverage. While waiver of the coverage or of the stacking makes for lower automobile insurance premiums, it deprives you of any source of coverage if you or a household member is hurt by an uninsured or underinsured driver.
Even if you do not have an insurance policy yourself, you may be entitled to UM and UIM coverage in the event you are in a car accident. This is because the law’ s definition of an “insured” includes “a spouse or relative” of a named insured, if the spouse or other relative is “residing in the same household of the named insured.” Pennsylvania courts have clarified the facts and circumstances that make a person a resident relative in automobile insurance policies. A person’s residence is “a factual place of abode.” A residence does not have to be permanent and can simply mean that someone is physically living in the household.
Who Is a “Resident”?
In the case involving the death of the child, the child’s father argued that his son was a “resident” of both parents’ homes. The insurance company claimed that the child was not sufficiently connected to the father’s household to qualify as a resident there.
The court observed that where a person resides is a “factually intensive” inquiry that requires a court to look at a “host of factors in reaching a common-sense judgment.” The court then noted that the child did not have his own room at his father’ s residence, did not eat regular meals there, did not spend overnights there regularly, and did not have a key to his father’ s house. The court also observed that the child never received any mail at his father’s home and did not go to school from his father’ s home. The father claimed that the amount of time the child spent with him and the physical arrangements at his home were limited by the father’ s economic circumstances. But characterizing the child’ s presence in his father’ s home as “sporadic,” the court found that the home simply did not qualify as a residence for the child.
Pennsylvania law does recognize that children can have two residences for automobile insuance purposes. The terms of your policy almost certainly closely track Pennsylvania’ s automobile insurance statute, which defines an “insured” as any person named in the policy as well as any spouse, relative, or minor who resides in the insured’ s household. One of the simplest ways to secure full coverage for all of your eligible children is to name them as insureds. If you have a child who is not named as an insured on your policy, that child will be entitled to coverage only if he or she regularly sleeps, eats, and interacts with others at your home. Simply giving your child a key can go a long way toward securing his or her entitlement to coverage of certain benefits under your automobile policy.