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Blood is thicker

Blood is thicker

March 28
12:54 2019

Blood is thicker

Derrick Martins Oliveira filed suit against Commerce Insurance Company to obtain coverage as a “household member” under an automobile policy held by the mother and stepfather of his long-term partner, with whom he had a child. Since 2012 Oliveira had lived with his partner in a single-family unit with her mother and stepfather.

On July 18, 2014, Oliveira was seriously injured in a single-automobile accident while a passenger in a vehicle owned and operated by a third party. He incurred medical bills in excess of $40,000. The driver was insured, and Oliveira accepted a settlement for her policy limit of $100,000.

The two vehicles used by the residents of Oliveira’s home were covered under a Commerce Insurance policy issued to his partner’s mother and stepfather. The policy provided $250,000 per person in underinsured motorist coverage. The UIM coverage was provided for:

“1. You, while occupying your auto, while occupying an auto you do not own, or if injured as a pedestrian.

“2. Any household member, while occupying your auto, while occupying an auto not owned by you, or if injured as a pedestrian. If there are two or more policies which provide coverage at the same limits, we will only pay our proportionate share. We will not pay damages to or for any household member who has a Massachusetts auto policy of his or her own or who is covered by a Massachusetts auto policy of another household member providing underinsured auto insurance with higher limits.”

The policy defined “household member” as:

“9. Household Member – means anyone living in your household who is related to you by blood, marriage or adoption. This includes wards, step-children or foster children.”

Oliveira claimed coverage under the policy as a “household member” of the policyholders. Commerce denied the claim, contending that Oliveira was not eligible for coverage because he did not meet the policy’s definition of a “household member.” In response, Oliveira filed a complaint alleging breach of contract and seeking a judgment declaring that he was a “household member” under the policy and as such was eligible for coverage. On cross-motions for summary judgment, Oliveira argued that he was related by blood to the policyholders through his biological child and therefore was entitled to coverage as a “household member.”

A judge denied Oliveira’s motion and granted Commerce’s motion. The judge found that Oliveira was not related by blood to either policyholder, and thus he was not a “household member” and was not entitled to underinsured motorist coverage under the policy. Oliveira appealed.

On appeal, the court noted that the policy provided UIM coverage for a person “related to you [the policyholder] by blood, marriage or adoption,” not someone “who is related by blood to someone you are related to by blood.”

The court noted further that Oliveira requested an expansive definition of “household member” but pointed out that the policy language, by specifically adding “wards, step-children or foster children” to the persons included in “household member,” made it clear that the meaning of “related … by blood, marriage or adoption” was not suited to expansion beyond its usual and ordinary meaning.

The judgment of the trial court in favor of Commerce was affirmed.

Oliveira v. Commerce Insurance Company-Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk-October 23, 2018-No. 17-P-757.

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