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When is a House a Household?

 Jan 28, 2019 4:00 PM
by Dan Strigberger

What does “living in the same household” mean?

In Ferro v. Weiner, the late Enid Weiner owned a house on Lake Eugenia. From the late 1980s or early 1990s, it was Enid’s sole residence, before she moved to a nursing home in 2008 or 2009. Although she never resumed full-time residence at the house, her three adult children and their families all continued to use it as a cottage. She would occasionally stay there with them. At all relevant times she was the sole owner of the house.

In May 2010, a young man drowned at the house while attending a party. Enid’s daughter Regan, son Scott, and daughter-in-law Sandy were at the house during the incident. The victim’s parents and sister sued Enid, Regan, Scott, and Sandy.

Scott’s insurer, TD Insurance, defended and settled the plaintiffs’ claims. TD then brought a summary judgment motion, seeking a declaration that Intact Insurance was bound to defend and indemnify all defendants against the claims advanced by the plaintiffs. Intact insured Enid as the sole named insured under a Homeowners – Broad Form policy. TD argued that the defendants were insured under the Intact policy because they were all “living in the same household” as Enid at time of the incident.

The motion was granted, and the motion judge ordered a declaration that Scott, Sandy, and Regan were insured under the Intact Policy. She found that Scott and his family were not visitors to the house. She noted that Scott attended at the house when he wished and cared for it, as an owner would, and that he later took an ownership interest in it. Referring to Canadian Universities’ Reciprocal Insurance v. Halwell Mutual Insurance Co. (2002), 2002 CanLII 27712 (ON CA), she  held that “household” can have a flexible meaning, and that “the meaning must be gleaned from interpreting its use in the policy of insurance using the rules of interpretation of contracts and of insurance policies, including that any ambiguity is to be resolved in favour of the insured.” She found that in the context of the intact policy and the property in question, Scott and his family were included in Enid’s household.

The Court of Appeal disagreed and allowed Intact’s appeal. The Court of Appeal held that the phrase “living in” was relevant to the question of whether the house was Scott’s residence. It was not.

The Court also held that the word “household” in the context of a homeowners policy refers to a community, most readily understood by analogy to a family unit:

A household is constituted not only by its members’ patterns of living with each other, but also by their settled intentions. Accordingly, courts have found that a person can maintain membership in a household despite lengthy absences from a common residence, provided there is continued self-identification as a member of the household, with a settled intention to return to the common residence. For example, university students do not necessarily cease to be members of their parents’ household when they move away for the academic year, provided they continue to view the parental home as home base and have an intention to return: Canadian Universities’. Similarly, a parent who is absent from the family home for extended periods because of the requirements of work does not therefore cease to be a member of the household during those absences as long as the parent intends to return…

On the facts of this case, the Court held that applying the established common law understanding of “household,” the facts found by the motion judge were incapable of supporting a finding that Enid and Scott, Sandy, and Regan had a “common life with the intimacy, unity, and permanence required to constitute a household.” At the time of the accident, Enid was living in a nursing home. Scott lived with his family in the city and had organized his life around his urban household. Prior to entering the nursing home, Enid lived with Scott’s brother, and not with Scott and his family.

It is also interesting to consider how the Court of Appeal rejected the respondents’ argument calling for a broad interpretation of the coverage clause at issue:

Whether a case involves a coverage clause or exclusion clause may influence the result in borderline cases, but this is not a borderline case. Where the facts are inconsistent with a person being a member of a household in accordance with settled jurisprudence, the fact that the case involves a coverage clause provides no assistance.

See Ferro v. Weiner, 2019 ONCA 55 (CanLII),


The son of a plaintiff lawyer, Daniel decided in law school that he wanted to work for the insurance industry. Read more...


  

 

 
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