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When is a House your Home? This Answer Will Cost Insurers in Pennsylvania

October 23, 2020

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <a href=""><em>Erie Ins. Exch. v. Montesano</em></a>, the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas heard an issue of first impression in deciding who was covered under “physically living” with another “on a regular basis” language in an auto insurance policy. Christiana Montesano was a 19-year-old girl who lived in her father’s Boyertown, Pennsylvania home. Her father and mother divorced when she was young and Christiana would typically spend approximately five weeks out of the year with her mother in Florida. After an incident between her and father/stepmother, Christiana boarded a flight to Florida and moved in with her mother for about one month. During that time, she changed her voter registration to Florida. Christiana the again packed up and settled in with her grandparents in Alabama for two months. Again, Christiana changed her driver’s license and voter registration to Alabama while also starting a seasonal job. The family then all agreed Christiana was to come back to Boyertown, her father’s residence. However, before Christiana could return to Boyertown, she was involved in a motor vehicle accident as a passenger with her sister driving. Christiana was injured and Christiana’s mother was killed.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Montesanos sought coverage under the auto insurance policy issued to Christiana’s father, Anthony and stepmother, Donna. The case of first impression required the Court to determine what “physically living” with another “on a regular basis” meant.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Judge Thomas Rogers issued a declaratory judgement that the Erie Policy issued to Christiana’s father covered her, specifically holding “Christiana had physically lived in the Boyertown home for 19 years before hastily departing with a carryon bag and a few clothes, shoes, and toiletries and leaving behind all her worldly possessions.” Judge Rogers’ concluded that Christiana was a guest in the home of both her mother and grandparents and that her stays were sporadic and temporary. To add additional weight to this outcome, the Court considered the fact that, “Christiana was making her way from her grandmother’s home to her home in Boyertown at the time of the accident.”</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The impact of this case, of course, is that while an individual may not currently be “physically living” within the policyholder’s home at the time of loss, a court may look to numerous factors to determine what “on a regular basis” means, including a look at the totality of the facts. This decision certainly increases risk to auto insurance companies by increasing the amount of people that may be covered under the policy. More questions of fact will be litigated on coverage issues and it will also increase litigation costs.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Who lives where is a question that appears to be changing daily. This decision will certainly involve judicial reviews over other factual scenarios such as the teen runaway, the college student, and even more prescient issues such as COVID-19 impact? This ruling’s application under the present climate opens the door for complicated factual analyses as to who “physically resides” where and what a “regular basis” is under the policy.</p>
Thanks to Ryan Geib for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please contact <a href="">Thomas Bracken</a>.


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