What Does “Resident Relative” Mean in an Auto Insurance Policy?

Divorce impacts resident relative in auto insurance claimA recent case from the Colorado Court of Appeals, Geico v. Collins, analyzes the issues that may present themselves after an auto or motorcycle accident when spouses are undergoing a divorce. In this case, Mr. Collins was injured in a motorcycle accident with an underinsured motorist. He then sought underinsured motorist coverage under an insurance policy issued by Geico to his wife, who was in the process of divorcing him, at the time of the accident. The insurance company denied the coverage because Mr. Collins was not a “resident relative” under the policy since he did not reside in the same home as his wife at the time. The court had to look at whether “spouses may be considered residents of the same household for purposes of insurance coverage when, although they remain married, they live apart.” The court concluded on that issue, that yes they could, but it was dependent on the circumstances of the case.

The Facts Determine whether one is a Resident Relative

In Mr. Collins’ case, the court concluded that he was not a resident relative, and affirmed the trial court’s decision which favored Geico. The facts of a case are very determinative of any decision, but here the determination of a “resident relative” relies solely on the facts. This is because the deciding factor becomes whether when spouses are separated is whether they intend for that separation to be permanent or temporary and whether the contracting parties to the insurance policy intend to cover both spouses.

C.R.S. § 10-4-601(13) defines a “resident relative” to include a person who, at the time of the accident, is related by marriage “to the name insured” and who resides in the named insured’s household, “even if temporarily living elsewhere.” Furthermore, C.R.S. § 10-4-601(5) defines “insured to include “relatives of the name insured who reside in the same household as the named insured.” Therefore, these definitions demonstrate that being married does not in itself qualify a person as a resident relative, but merely includes.

The court looked at the facts of this case, specifically the following to make a determination:

  • There was no intent to reconcile, especially by the wife;
  • A protection order was in place, which did not allow for contact between the parties;
  • There was a more legally restricted relationship with the filing of a dissolution of marriage petition;
  • Collins not changing his mailing address was irrelevant;
  • Wife and Geico did not consider Mr. Collins to be a resident of the household for the purposes of the new policy. Geico noted in its file that the parties were “separated” when the policy was created.

It is imperative to understand the total coverage of your policy, and to make sure you have everyone you want to, covered in the policy. This case just shows how important it is to get an experienced personal injury attorney on your side after an auto accident. While the court here ultimately ruled in favor of the insurance company, it could have been much worse for the claimant in this situation. Given the intricacies in an insurance policy, you’ll want an attorney on your side to insure you get the compensation you deserve under the policy.

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