IL 5th Dist./”Insured”

Decedent Potentially “Related by Marriage Insured” Under Former Stepmother’s Auto Policy

The Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court (Justices Overstreet, Cates and Moore), applying Illinois law, held an individual who died in an auto accident was potentially entitled to medical and uninsured motorist coverage under his former stepmother’s auto policies, because the “related by marriage” requirement to be an insured was ambiguous regarding whether it applied to decedent after his father and his former stepmother divorced.  However, to qualify for coverage, the decedent’s estate also needed to establish the decedent “resided primarily” with his former stepmother at the time of the accident.  Genuine issues of material fact existed regarding that issue, thereby necessitating remand.

The decedent, Blake Miller, died in an accident involving an uninsured vehicle he did not own.  State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”) had issued three auto policies to Miller’s former stepmother, Winnie Robertson.  All three State Farm Policies provided uninsured motorist coverage, and two of the three State Farm Policies provided medical payments coverage.  To access coverage, Miller’s estate needed to establish he was an “insured” under Winnie’s State Farm Policies.  The policies defined “insured” to include a “resident relative.”  “Resident relative” was defined in the policies as “a person, other than you, who resides primarily with the … named insured … and who is … related to that named insured or his or her spouse by blood, marriage, or adoption.”

The Appellate Court held the “resident relative” language imposed two separate requirements, both of which must be satisfied to create coverage:  (1) Miller must have been related to Winnie, the named insured “by blood, marriage, or adoption”; and (2) Miller must have “resided primarily” with Winnie.

As to the first issue, the Appellate Court grappled with whether Miller was related by marriage to Winnie, “despite Winnie and David [Blake’s father] divorce and David’s death.”  The Appellate Court looked to dictionary definitions and analogous case law to decide this issue.  Those sources indicated that “relative” includes one “connected with another by blood or affinity,” and “affinity” includes the “connection existing, in consequence of marriage, between each of the married persons and the kindred of the other.”  The Appellate Court held the relationship of “affinity” does not necessarily automatically terminate with the end of the marriage that created it.  Thus, the Appellate Court held:  “We find that the policies’ ‘related … by … marriage’ provision is reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation…Because the ‘related … by … marriage’ provision is ambiguous, it should be construed in favor of coverage.”

As to the second issue, the Appellate Court considered whether Miller “resided primarily” with Winnie at the time of the accident.  While the Appellate Court noted the term “resided” generally is construed liberally in favor of the insured, it held genuine issues of material fact existed.  On the one hand, there was testimony Winnie advised State Farm at the time of the accident that Miller had resided with her for the last five months, Miller did laundry in Winnie’s house, kept a dog at her residence, and had his own room at her house.  On the other hand, there was testimony Miller did not receive mail at Winnie’s house, did not always stay the night at her residence, and kept no possessions there.  Thus, the Appellate Court remanded the case so that the trier of fact could decide whether Miller “resided primarily” with Winnie at the time of the accident.  State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Bierman, 2019 IL App (5th) 180426 (Sep. 10, 2019).