Here is a case for someone in Grand Prairie, Arlington, Weatherford, Mineral Wells, Mansfield, Cedar Hill, Duncanville, Desoto, Granbury, Burleson, Lake Worth, and other places through out the state of Texas to be aware of. The case is styled, State Farm Fire and Casualty Company v. Matthew Lange. The opinion in this case was issued on January 11, 2011, by Judge Keith Ellison, out of the United States District Court, Southern District Texas, Houston Division.
Before getting into the facts and final outcome of this case, it is noteworthy to point out that Mr. Lange did not have an attorney in this case. In other words, he was pro se, or representing himself.
This case arose out of a one-vehicle accident on February 5, 2009. Two of the passengers in Lange’s car were killed as a result of the accident. The sole determination in this case is whether Lange was insured under his parents’Personal Liability Umbrella Policy (the “Policy”) at the time of the accident.
The facts that Lange pointed to in order to try and convince the court that he was a resident of his parents house (State Farm alleged he had moved out) at the time of the accident are lengthy. And it is this authors opinion that the court did not rule correctly. However, instead of reciting the facts relied upon to try and show that Lange resided at his parents at the time in question, we will point out what the court ruled and the courts basis for the ruling.
The court began by pointing out that “primary residence” is not defined in the Policy, nor have Texas courts interpreted its meaning in the insurancecontext. Citing the Texas Supreme Court, this court said, whether a term is ambiguous is a question of law. If a written contract is so worded that it can be given a definite or certain meaning, then it is not ambiguous. An ambiguity does not arise, however, merely because the parties advance conflicting contract interpretations. If, however, the language of a policy or contract is subject to two or more reasonable interpretations, it is ambiguous. If a term is found to be ambiguous, it must be resolved in favor of coverage.
This court then said, “The Court finds that ‘primary residence’ is unambiguous as a matter of law.” It then reasoned that, “Primary” means “first in rank of importance.” Thus, a person can only have one “primary residence” for purposes of this policy.
The court then stated:
“That ‘primary residence’ is the person’s residence that is most important based on all relevant considerations. Relevant factors in this inquiry include (but are not limited to):
– how often a person stays at a residence;
– how long he has resided in a residence;
– where he keeps his belongings;
– whether he lists a residence on important documents, including as his “personal address”;
– whether he owns or rents and if he rents, the length of the lease;
– whether he has plans, or will be required, to vacate a residence;
– whether he contributes to maintenance, upkeep, property taxes, or other costs;
– whether he shares a residence with others;
– whether blood or legal relationships exist between him and others living in either residence;
– whether he has full and free access to a residence and its contents;
– the subjective views of the persons and the other people living in his residences.
Where a person spends the majority of his time is the most important factor, but no one factor is dispositive, and the determination of the primary residence should be based on a totality of the circumstances. Thus, although a person’s ‘primary residence’ will generally be the dwelling in which he spends the majority of his time, strong evidence indicating that a different dwelling is in fact the ‘most important’ may overcome the quantitative factor.”
The court went to great lengths discussing the above factors and applying them to the facts and evidence and testimony in this case. They even cited a portion of the Texas Tax Code, Section 11.13, for support of their conclusion.
The relevance of this case is again, showing how courts look at interpreting insurance policies. The factors and reasoning go a long way to assisting an experienced Insurance Law Attorney in advising a client how best to proceed based on a prospective client’s situation.