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New Hampshire: Court Clarifies Definition of Household ‘Resident’ for Insurance Purposes

The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently clarified the meaning of the term “resident” of a household for insurance purposes in a case involving a daughter seeking uninsured motorist benefits from her mother’s insurance carrier.

Belanger v. MMG Insurance Co., decided by the Court on May 26, involved a plaintiff who was injured in an automobile accident on June 26, 2003. At the time, the plaintiff was in something of a transitional period regarding her living arrangements. She had rented an apartment in Brighton, Mass., the previous year with two friends, but conflict ensued, and she moved back to her mother’s home in Hampton, N.H., in early June of 2003. She looked for a new apartment to rent with her sister, and on June 25, 2003, the day before the automobile accident, they paid the first month’s rent and security deposit on an apartment in Somerville, Mass. Though their lease was to begin on July 1, the sisters already had the keys to the apartment and were traveling there to do some cleaning when the accident happened.

The plaintiff’s mother had an auto insurance policy with the defendant insurance company that provided coverage to any “family member,” defined as a person related to the policyholder “who is a resident” of the policyholder’s household. The plaintiff sought uninsured motorist benefits under that policy, but the company denied coverage.

The plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that she was covered under the policy as a family member, and the insurer moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff was not a “resident” of the mother’s household at the time of the accident. In granting the insurer summary judgment, the trial court utilized the following definition of “resident”:

any person who occupies a dwelling within the State, has a present intent to remain within the State for a period of time, and manifests the genuineness of that intent by establishing an ongoing physical presence within the State together with indicia that this presence within the State is something other than merely transitory in nature.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court utilized an erroneous standard to determine whether she was a resident of her mother’s household within the meaning of the policy. The Supreme Court agreed, pointing out that it had construed the term “resident” in an insurance context on several occasions, using the following definition: “The term ‘residence’ in [the insurance] context, refers to the place where an individual physically dwells, while regarding it as his principal place of abode.”

According to the Supreme Court, the trial court erred by including an “intent to remain” element in its definition, while the correct standard contains only two elements, “(1) the person must physically dwell at the claimed residence; and (2) the person must regard the claimed residence as his principal place of abode.” .

Applying this standard to the facts of the case, the Supreme Court concluded that the plaintiff satisfied both elements, so that the insurer was not entitled to summary judgment.

Direct questions to NAMIC State Affairs Manager Paul Tetrault.

Posted: Monday, June 12, 2006 12:00:00 AM. Modified: Monday, June 12, 2006 10:41:32 AM.

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