By Thomas Paschos, Esq. of Thomas Paschos & Associates, P.C.
In Miller v. Poole, ___ A.3d ___, 2012 WL 1980647 (Pa. Super. June 4, 2012), Helen Poole was a home owner and named insured on a homeowner’s insurance policy issued by Wall Rose. Helen’s son, Abe Poole, and 18–year–old grandson, Daniel Poole, spent the night of April 1, 2005 at Helen’s house. Helen Poole died the following day on April 2, 2005. Because Helen’s will granted Abe a life estate in her house, Abe and Daniel moved their belongings from the new apartment to Helen’s house and continued to stay there until September 2005.
On September 2, 2005, Daniel ignited the gas stove at the house to light a cigarette, and then left the house without turning off the stove. A fire ensued and spread to the Millers’ adjacent property. The Millers sued Daniel for the damages caused by the fire. Wall Rose refused to defend Daniel and denied coverage for the Millers’ property damage. The Millers eventually obtained a default judgment against Daniel.
The Millers filed a declaratory judgment action against Daniel and Wall Rose, seeking a ruling that Wall Rose had a duty to indemnify Daniel for the judgment entered against him. After discovery, the Millers and Wall Rose filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted Wall Rose’s motion and denied the Millers’ motion. The Millers filed a timely notice of appeal.
The insurance policy at issue provided that Wall Rose will pay, up to its limit, sums for which an “insured” is liable for property damage or bodily injury. The questions before the court centered around the interpretation of the provision of the contract which defines who is an “insured” under the policy. The court found that under the unusual factual scenario presented in the instant case, the language providing that an “insured” includes “‘your’ relatives if residents of ‘your’ household” is reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation. “It plausibly could mean either that Helen Poole’s relatives qualified as “insureds” (1) if they lived in the same house with her, or (2) if they lived on the premises insured by her under the Wall Rose policy.”
The Court found there was no dispute that Daniel Poole began staying at the insured premises on April 1, 2005, and continued to live there until the fire occurred on September 2, 2005. As a question of physical fact, Daniel Poole was a resident of the insured premises at the time of the fire. Construing the term “household” against Wall Rose as the drafter of the contract, the court held that Daniel Poole was an “insured” under the policy as a resident of Helen Poole’s household. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court order.
Thomas Paschos, Esq. Practices in the fields of professional liability, employment litigation, products liability, and insurance coverage. He has represented, amongst others, corporate officers, defendants in RICO actions, physicians, dentists, nursing homes, lawyers, accountants, product manufacturers, leasing companies, insurance agents and brokers, home inspectors, contractors, and insurance companies. He has been awarded an AV rating by Martindale – Hubbell, which identifies a lawyer with a very high to preeminent legal ability. In 2004, he was voted by his peers as one of Pennsylvania’s Super Lawyers. Contact Tom at (215) 636-0555 or TPaschos@paschoslaw.com.