The terms “homeowners’ insurance” and “renters’ insurance” are misnomers because they do not apply solely to accidents and injuries which occur on an insured person’s property. Rather, they should be called “negligence insurance” or “liability insurance” because these kinds of insurance policies often apply to situations occurring outside of and off of the insured home. In fact, Pennsylvania courts often construe the definitions and terms of homeowners’ insurance policies as broad enough to apply to incidents which occur in both private places like a neighbor’s home and public places, like restaurants, bars, malls, etc.
Victims of crimes like shootings, assaults, sexual assaults, etc., may therefore be able to make claims against a wrongdoer’s homeowners’ or renters’ insurance company. Take this a step further, and a claim may be made against someone in the household, not the actual homeowner, but the homeowner’s relative, i.e., spouse, son, daughter, etc. In other words, a homeowners’ insurance policy may cover a spouse or child, even an adult child.
A recent Pennsylvania federal court case out of Philadelphia reiterates this long-recognized, but often overlooked rule of law. Last week, Federal Judge Felipe Restrepo (United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania) ruled that a homeowners’ insurance company was required to defend the son of an insured homeowner. See Citizens Insurance Company of America v. Ung. The son was attending law school in Philadelphia, and the homeowners’ policy at issue belonged to his parents who lived in Virginia.
The key in this recent personal injury case, as in all injury cases which involve homeowners’ insurance coverage, was the language of the actual policy. Definitions of “personal liability coverage” and “bodily injury” are usually at the heart of the issue.
Below are three scenarios which explain how homeowners’ insurance coverage comes into play.
A bar fight results in serious injuries. The intoxicated instigator who delivered the blows owns a home and has homeowners’ insurance. The injured individual may be able to make a claim against the perpetrator’s homeowners’ insurance company. In addition, the bar or restaurant will probably be found liable for negligence in serving alcohol, which led to the fight/assault.
A child goes to play at his friend/neighbor’s home where a loaded gun is kept in a back bedroom. The child is shot when his friend pulls the gun out and accidentally fires it. The injured child would likely have a valid claim against the parents of the child who pulled the trigger. As a result, the parents’ homeowners’ insurance policy would kick in and provide a source of financial recovery for the injured child.
Sexual Assault/Child Molestation
A woman is babysitting several children inside her home. A relative of hers is in town. The woman leaves several of the children in the care of the relative while she leaves the home. During that time, the relative sexually assaults the children. Here, the woman may be liable for negligently leaving the children in the care of her relative. Consequently, they would have viable claims against the babysitter and therefore, her homeowners’ insurance company.
Laffey, Bucci & Kent is a Philadelphia based law firm with offices throughout the Northeast area. Our lawyers handle civil assault and sexual assault cases. Firm partner, Brian Kent, is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor who is passionate about justice for victims of crime. Please call our firm for a free consultation. Click To Call
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