Monday, September 20, 2021

Coverture Analysis in Insurance Coverage Case

The Kentucky Court of Appeals published an interesting decision of note on September 3 in Bratcher v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., et. al.  The plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle accident and filed a claim for benefits under her parents' policy listed as "Bratcher, Don & Tina." The plaintiff lived in her parents' rental property. The plaintiff's mother had separated from her father and moved into the rental property with the plaintiff just before the accident. The insurance coverage would include the plaintiff only if she was a "resident relative" defined as a person who lives "primarily with the first person shown as a named insured on the Declarations Page and who is [related to that "person"]" (emphasis in original). Person is defined as "a human being." State Farm moved for summary judgment arguing that she did not reside primarily with the person on the Declarations Page because that was only her father.  The Circuit Court agreed. The plaintiff argued on appeal that the parties were listed together as husband and wife and held equal status as named insureds. The Court of Appeals agreed and held that both mom and dad were first-named insureds on the policy. Because Mom had just moved in with the plaintiff, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the plaintiff was a resident relative, so the case was remanded for proceedings consistent with the decision. 

Judge Dixon's Concurring Opinion is particularly interesting in how it draws out the historical points on coverture (emphasis in original). 

It is within this context of history I turn to State Farm’s denotation of Don as the first-named insured. While much has changed in the past 50 years, apparently much stays the same.

The law governing family relationships has developed significantly during the latter half of the 20th Century; married women are generally accorded the same rights as unmarried women, and strides toward recognizing the equality of women and men have been made and are continuing. Nevertheless, there remain vestiges of the historical treatment of women generally, and married women in particular, within our law, a treatment which at common law merged the married woman’s identity into that of her husband. 5 WILLISTON ON CONTRACTS § 11:1 (4th ed. 2021). Has Tina’s identity herein been merged with that of her husband? The uncontested proof indicates Appellant’s mother, Tina, purchased these insurance policies and paid the premiums for them. Under normal contractual circumstances, Tina would be considered the owner of the policies. Yet, State Farm representatives unilaterally chose to list the “insured” as “Bratcher, Don & Tina L,” conducting a credit check only on Don. Why not Tina? Is her credit irrelevant and insignificant? In fact, Tina was the only one between the two with actual employment. Does she have no independent identity? Nevertheless, due to the most random of circumstances, State Farm contends that because Tina, not Don, resided with Appellant in a home owned jointly by Tina and Don, their daughter–Appellant–is excluded from coverage solely because Don is the first-named insured. Thus, presumably, if Don were residing with Appellant instead of Tina, she would be covered by the policies in question. Such certainly smacks of the sex discrimination of a bygone era. Why else would State Farm choose a man as first-named insured over his wife who actually purchased the insurance policies herein and who paid all of the premiums for the policies? State Farm should not be allowed to benefit from such action.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2021/09/kentucky-case-applying-coverture-analysis.html

Family, Legal History | Permalink

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