No Summary Judgment in PA Fire Loss Case Where Insured Lived In Apartment But Had Regular Contact With Insured Residence
In Isenberg v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., the plaintiff insured filed a claim under her homeowner’s insurance policy after a house that she had purchased was destroyed by a fire. Plaintiff had been performing renovations at the house and, at the time of the fire, was living in an apartment with her children. Believing that plaintiff was not using the home as a residence under those circumstances, the insurer rescinded the policy and disputed coverage.
Plaintiff filed suit to enforce coverage and the insurer moved for summary judgment, arguing that the homeowner’s insurance policy required the property to be Plaintiff’s residence premises in order for coverage to apply and that a person could only have one “residence” under the policy. The plaintiff countered that while she was temporarily living in the apartment during the renovations, the home was her residence since she had almost daily contact with the house, used it for eating and sleeping, and stored her personal possessions there.
The Western District of Pennsylvania denied the insurer’s motion, holding that the facts supported a finding that plaintiff resided in the home. The court explained that plaintiff exhibited a “measure of permanency” and “habitual repetition” by her almost-daily presence at the house to work on renovations, including being present at the house on the day of the fire. The court also noted that an individual’s “residence” is not dependent on the insured’s intentions when visiting the property, but instead is a question of fact showing whether or not the insured is actually present at the property regularly. The court also distinguished the cases relied upon by the insurer which involved insureds who were leaving or had left their properties and had no subsequent regular or “habitual” contact with the properties. The court also agreed that, under Pennsylvania law, an individual is not limited to one residence for the purposes of coverage.
The Isenberg case shows that Pennsylvania courts will focus on the contacts with an insured residence, rather than the address where the insured physically lives, to determine whether there is homeowner’s insurance for a loss.
Thank you to Mason Bailey for his contribution to this post. Please contact Andrew Gibbs with any questions.