Rhode Island Supreme Court Takes Broad Approach to Household Residency

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In Peerless Insurance Company v. Luppe, 2015 R.I. LEXIS 87 (R.I. June 17, 2015), the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that a minor child of divorced parents can be a resident of a non-custodial parent’s household.

The relevant facts are as follows: Maya Henderson’s parents were divorced. Maya’s mother had physical custody. Maya’s father had visitation rights. At some point after the divorce, Maya began staying overnight with her father two nights per week. Maya kept some of her clothing and toiletries at her father’s home. However, Maya was listed as a resident of her mother’s home on a variety of school forms, any mail Maya received would be directed to her mother’s home, and Maya was claimed as an exemption on the tax returns filed by her mother.

One night while Maya was staying at her father’s home, she was attacked by her father’s dog. Maya and her mother brought suit against Maya’s father to recover for her injuries. Maya’s father sought coverage from his homeowners insurer, Peerless.

Peerless claimed that the exclusion for “‘[b]odily injury’ to you or an ‘insured’” precluded coverage for the claim. Notably, the policy defined “insured” as “you and residents of your household who are:  a. [y]our relatives; or b. [o]ther persons under the age of [twenty-one] and in the care or any person named above.” Peerless claimed that Maya was a resident of father’s household, thus triggering the exclusion. Peerless filed this declaratory judgment action.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court held that Maya was indeed a resident of her father’s household and the term “residents of your household” was not ambiguous. The court stated that being a resident implies more than being a mere transient guest because a resident is someone who has a home in a particular place, i.e., where he or she lives, sleeps, and carries on life with regularity. Since shared custody arrangements are frequent in society, the court reasoned that children may call multiple dwellings home. The court found compelling that Maya kept belongings at her father’s home, that she regularly visited her father, and that the parties had every intention of continuing the visitation agreement.