When it comes to car insurance, matters of coverage could be complicated if both parties on a policy are cohabitating rather than married.
As the recent case of Bell v. Progressive Direct Insurance underscores, the fact that a couple lives together, pays the bills together, has a child together and is even listed on the same policy may not be enough for an insurance company to list both parties as “household members” or “relatives” for purposes of coverage.
Manhattan car accident attorneys recognize that this issue is becoming increasingly relevant as more and more couples are choosing to cohabitate, rather than tie the knot.
A recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, entitled, “First Premarital Cohabitation in the United States: 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth,” indicated that 1 in 4 women live with a man by age 20 and almost 3 in 4 do so by age 30. Stigmas regarding “living in sin” have faded, and more and more often, people are delaying marriage. In many cases, this ultimately leads to solid marriages.
However in the interim, couples have to be very careful when it comes to how their car insurance is structured. In the Bell case, reviewed by the South Carolina Supreme Court, the petitioner filed an underinsured motorist claim on the policy of his “on-again-off-again fiancee,” the mother of his child with whom he resided at the time. He had been a passenger in a vehicle driven by one of his co-workers.
The liability limits of the claim against the driver were tendered, and there wasn’t any UIM coverage on the vehicle, which led the passenger to seek coverage from his fiancee’s policy. According to him, he had canceled his own insurance to become listed as a “driver” on her policy, thinking this would be enough to cover him for insurance. There was no question that both names appeared on the policy under the heading “drivers and household residents.”
But his claim for UIM coverage was denied as he was not listed as an “insured” on the policy. Specifically, he was not deemed to be a spouse or live-in relative of the policy insured, his fiancee.
In a deposition prior to the trial, the petitioner conceded that the pair were engaged, but hadn’t yet set a date. He had proposed when she was pregnant with their son, but they had been busy and hadn’t yet had the time or money to plan a wedding. The insurance company used this as evidence that the pair did not have a common law marriage under state law, and therefore were not spouses or relatives.
The petitioner countered that he had canceled his policy after calling his fiancee’s insurance company and being “added” to her policy. Her monthly premium was increased, he was the one who paid the bill and they both shared use of the same vehicle.
And yet, the court supported the insurance company’s denial, a ruling that was later affirmed by the state supreme court, holding that the relationship didn’t meet the state’s strict requirements for common law marriage and the terms of the insurance policy were not ambiguous or unreasonable.
The case illustrates why it’s important, especially for cohabitating couples, to review your auto insurance policy to ensure you have an acceptable degree of coverage in the event of a crash.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Bell v. Progressive Direct Insurance, April 9, 2014, South Carolina Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Neck Pain Widespread After Car Accidents – Too Few Pursue Injury Lawsuits, Feb. 27, 2014, Manhattan Car Accident Lawyer Blog