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Connecticut Court Interprets Meaning of the Phrase “Resident of Your Household” as Used in a Homeowner’s Policy

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In a recent decision, Judge Fischer, of the Connecticut Superior Court, Judicial District of New Haven, interpreted the meaning of “resident of your household” as used within a homeowner’s policy. Perazella v. Patrons Mut. Ins. Co. of Connecticut, Inc., 2013 WL 5496773 (Conn. Super. Ct. Sept. 17, 2013). Specifically, the court found the phrase unambiguous but ultimately held that whether a child of the named insureds is a resident of the household is a question of material fact and not appropriate for adjudication on summary judgment. 

Perazella is a coverage dispute arising from the discharge of a BB gun on property owned by James and Patricia Wolfe. The gun was discharged at Plaintiff Nicholas Perazella’s head by Eugene Wolfe (“Wolfe”), the son of James and Patricia Wolfe, causing Plaintiff to sustain bodily injury. At the time of the incident, Wolfe was living at the house where the shooting took place, but his parents were living at a different home.

Plaintiff ultimately initiated a lawsuit against Wolfe seeking damages for the injuries he sustained as a result of the shooting. Wolfe tendered his defense under a homeowner’s liability policy issued to his parents by Patrons Mutual Insurance Company of Connecticut (“Patrons”). Patrons denied coverage on the grounds that Wolfe did not qualify as an insured under the policy. At trial, the Plaintiff was awarded damages of $272,585.07. Wolfe failed to satisfy the judgment, and Plaintiff sued Patrons to enforce Wolfe’s rights as an insured under the policy. In addition to breach of contract, Plaintiff asserts claims of statutory and common law bad faith against Patrons.

Patrons moved for summary judgment on all of the claims, on the grounds that it had no duty to defend Wolfe because he did not qualify as an insured under the policy. Specifically, Patrons asserted that Wolfe was not listed on the declaration page as a named insured, and the relevant policy language extended coverage to a relative of the named insureds – Wolfe’s parents – only if the relative was a resident of the named insureds’ household. Patrons argued further that because Wolfe did not live at the same house as his parents, he was not a “resident” of his parents’ “household” within the meaning of the policy. In response, Plaintiff argued that the phrase “residents of your household” was ambiguous and should be constructed in his favor. He also maintained that even if the language is found unambiguous, whether Wolfe was a resident in his parent’s household was an issue of fact for the jury.

The court denied Patron’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that a genuine issue of material fact existed with respect to whether Wolfe was an insured under the policy. In reaching its holding, the court noted that the phrase “residents of your household” was unambiguous and must be accorded its natural and ordinary meaning. The court turned to the dictionary to ascertain the meaning of the term “household” and determined it meant, “those who dwell under the same roof and compose a family; a domestic establishment specifically, a social unit compromised of those living together in the same dwelling place.” However, the Court concluded that the determination of whether one is a resident of a household requires the application of a two-part test previously articulated in D’Addio v. Connecticut Ins. Guarantee Assn., 30 Conn. App. 729, 734 (1993). Specifically, under the test, the following questions must be resolved, whether Wolfe: (1) had a close, family-type relationship” with his parents, and (2) actually lived in their household. In applying that test to the facts presented, the court ultimately concluded that a genuine issue of material fact precluded judgment as a matter of law.

For a complete copy of the Opinion click here