Policy Interpretation – Residents Of Household

Insureds in Grand Prairie, Arlington, Grapevine, Keller, Flower Mound, Rhome, Ponder, Justin, Haslet, Saginaw, Farmers Branch, and other places in Texas might think they know the meaning of household resident. They would be surprised that often times an insurance company is going to fight over what it means when someone makes a claim. Here is an example.
The Texas Court of Appeals, Waco, determined a case in 1977, which is still good law. The case is styled, Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company v. Kenneth C. Kimball et al. Here are some facts of the case.
Kenneth Kimball was the named insured in a family automobile policy issued by Southern Farm Bureau. Kenneth’s wife, Connie, was killed in an automobile accident with an uninsured motorist when the policy was in force. At the time of her death, she and Kenneth were separated, living in separate residences, and a divorce action filed by her was pending. Farm Bureau filed a declaratory judgment asking the court to declare that they did not owe any benefits under the policy. The case was heard on stipulated facts. The only issue raised was whether Connie and Kenneth were “residents of the same household,” as that term is used in the policy, at the time of Connie’s death.
At trial, the jury found in favor of Kenneth and Farm Bureau appealed. This Waco appeals court confirmed the jury’s verdict.
In discussing this case, the court stated, “The controlling test of whether persons are residents of the same household at a particular time, within the meaning of the policy in question, is not solely whether they are then residing together under one roof. The real test is whether the absence of the party of interest from the household of the alleged insured is intended to be permanent or only temporary i.e., whether there is physical absence coupled with an intent not to return.” The court then pointed out that under proper facts, it has been held that separations from the common roof by college students, by members of the military services, and by spouses did not, per se, destroy their household membership with their families and spouses.
Cases cited by Farm Bureau in support of their contention that Connie was not a resident of the household at the time of her death, were cases that showed evidence to support that contention. In this opinion the court discussed in detail three of those cases in an effort to distinguish them from the present case.
As pointed out by the court, the facts and evidence in this case showed that Kenneth and Connie were a couple in their 20’s who were married in May, 1972. Their only child, a daughter, was born in September, 1973. Connie was killed on December 21, 1975. Before their their separation, they resided in their mobile home in the City of Waco. Early after their marriage, they suffered substantial financial losses in the construction business. Thereafter, during the last two years of their marriage, Kenneth was a “long haul” truck driver, based in Waco. He would be on the road three and four weeks at a time, with no longer than three days at home between trips. Sometimes he would get in at night and leave the next morning. On the trips, he virtually lived in his truck. It was arranged with employer that Connie could draw on his earnings and pick up his paychecks. She cashed the checks, bought the family needs, and paid the bills, including payments on the mobile home and several department store accounts she maintained. Connie also held a job. During the day, she left their child with her mother who lives near Waco. After work when Kenneth was gone, Connie would go home, clean up, carry her work clothes for the next day to her mother’s house, and she and the child would spend the night there. Connie filed suit for divorce on November 5, 1975. Later, she separated from Kenneth and moved into her mother’s house, taking all of her work clothes. After the separation, Connie kept most of her things in the trailer home. One week before her death, Connie rented an apartment near Waco and moved all of her belongings into it. She left a set of dishes in the mobile home for Kenneth. The divorce suit and the separation were precipitated by emotional stress suffered by Connie which was caused by Kenneth’s long absences from home and by the dunning of creditors of their defunct construction business. During the separation, Connie would either meet Kenneth at the truck depot in Waco when he returned from a trip, or she would have their car there for his use and he would go to her. They would go out together for supper when he was home, and would visit into the evening with each other and other trucker couples at local night spots. Neither were romantically interested in another person. They continued with the arrangement for Connie drawing on his pay, cashing his checks, using the money as she saw fit, including her needs and those of the child, and paying the bills. He talked with her several times about a reconciliation, but she had not agreed to it at the time of her death. On December 5, 1975, Kenneth returned home to attend his father’s funeral. That night, he and Connie slept together in a room in his mother’s house. Their child was with them. On December 20th, the night before Connie died, she fixed supper for Kenneth in her apartment. Their daughter was with them. They discussed plans for the child’s Christmas. Kenneth had arranged his schedule to be home on Christmas.
These facts allowed the court to rule in Kenneth’s favor. There are many cases where the question of whether or not someone is a resident of the household arises. It is vital that the advice of an experienced Insurance Law Attorney be sought when this happens.