An auto insured has responsibility to disclose the identities of resident, non-family members who have access to the insured’s vehicle. If the insured fails to do so, it is at his own risk.
The question of whether a co-habitating girlfriend was covered by her boyfriend’s insurer arose in the case of Safe Auto Insurance Company v. Rene Oriental-Guillermo. The girlfriend, Rachel Dixon, and another driver were involved in a two-car accident in Allentown, Pennsylvania. A passenger in Dixon’s car, Priscilla Jimenez, filed a personal injury lawsuit against Dixon, Dixon’s boyfriend( the owner of the car that Dixon was driving), and the driver of the other car involved in the accident.
The car that Dixon was driving was insured by Safe Auto Insurance Company (“Safe Auto”). The Safe Auto policy had an Unlisted Resident Driver Exclusion, which specifically excluded from coverage those individuals who lived with the Policyholder, but were not related to the Policyholder and whom the Policyholder did not specifically list on the Policy. Although Dixon and the owner lived together, the policy did not list Dixon as a driver. Safe Auto denied coverage to Dixon for the accident.
Jimenez challenged the Unlisted Resident Driver Exclusion’s applicability on a few grounds, but most notably, on the grounds that the exclusion itself violates the public policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania set forth in the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). Jimenez argued that the Unlisted Resident Driver Exclusion contravenes the MVFRL’s mandate that an owner of a motor vehicle ensure that all drivers of his vehicle are covered by insurance; for this reason, Safe Auto should cover the accident.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected this argument, instead, ruling that the Unlisted Resident Driver Exclusion places the obligation solely on the owner of a vehicle, and not the insurance company, to ensure that anyone who drives the owner’s car has insurance.
While the MVFRL does aim to ensure that all drivers are covered, the court concluded that there was no indication in the MVFRL that the burden of ensuring coverage must fall on the insurance company. In fact, the insured is in the best position to monitor whether members of his household who intend to drive are listed on his policy. Summarily, the court stated that “there is no provision in the MVFRL that indicates that the Legislature, when it enacted the MVFRL, intended to shift the risk to insurance companies to insure individuals who live with the insured, but are not related to the insured.” It’s simply not the insurance company’s burden.
Thanks to Sathima Jones for her contribution.
For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at email@example.com.