In Rohlin v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 2006 N.Y. Slip Op. 00731, decided on February 3, 2006, the Fourth Department considered the issue of whether the defendant was obligated to provide coverage to the plaintiff under her automobile liability insurance policy.
The facts, as described by the Court were as follows:
Plaintiff was operating a vehicle owned by Sharol L. Mortensen when the vehicle allegedly encountered rough road and flipped over. Plaintiff's daughter, Tracy M. Rohlin (defendant), was a passenger in the vehicle. Defendant commenced an action against plaintiff and Mortensen seeking damages for injuries she allegedly sustained in the accident. Plaintiff sought coverage from defendant Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company (Nationwide) under separate automobile liability insurance policies issued by Nationwide to her and Mortensen. Although Nationwide agreed to provide coverage under the policy issued to Mortensen, it denied coverage under the policy issued to plaintiff on the ground that Mortensen is a member of plaintiff's household and coverage extends to plaintiff only if plaintiff was operating "a motor vehicle owned by a non-member of [plaintiff's] household."
The Court first noted that the definition of "household" in insurance policies is ambiguous and any ambiguous provision in an insurance policy should be interpreted in a manner favoring coverage.
The Court then stated that the interpretation of the term "household" should be based upon the intent of the parties, which is an issue of fact, rather than one of law and concluded that:
(T)hat issue is best resolved by the trier of fact, "taking into account the reasonable expectations of the average person purchasing [automobile liability] insurance, as well as the particular circumstances of [this] case."