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Who is eligible for uninsured motorist coverage in Massachusetts?

An important type of insurance coverage is uninsured motorist coverage.  This coverage protects you if you are involved in an accident with someone that does not have any insurance or has insufficient insurance.  Recently, there was a case decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court determining the scope of this type of coverage and who is protected when the insurance is purchased.

The case was Oliveria v. Commerce Insurance.  The plaintiff seemed coverage as a household member under the uninsured motorist provision of the policy.  The plaintiff argued that he should have been covered under the insurance policy of his girlfriend’s mother and step-father, with whom he had lived with for an extended period of time. The appeals court ultimately upheld the Superior Court’s ruling that, although the plaintiff lived with the insured parties and has a son in which the policyholders are genetically related to, he himself is not related by blood and therefore not eligible to under the policy.

The plaintiff had been living with his girlfriend, their son, and her mother and step-father for an extended period of time. Oliveira is not married nor engaged to his girlfriend, but notably, they have a young child together and have been living under the same roof for years. On the night of July 18, 2014, Oliveira was injured in a one-car accident, sustaining major injuries which included a four-day hospital stay, disability benefits, and medical bills which totaled over $40,000. The driver of the vehicle involved in the accident was insured under her own policy, and Oliveira accepted a settlement with the driver of $100,000.

Under Massachusetts law, insurers in Massachusetts are required to make UIM coverage available for purchase. The statute provides that someone in a similar position would be eligible for coverage “from the policy of a resident relative”. However, under the Commerce Insurance Policy, anyone who is a  “household member” should technically be covered.

At the time of the accident, Commerce Insurance was providing uninsured motorist coverage to the two vehicles owned and operated by the homeowners, in this case, Oliveiras girlfriends mom and step-father. Oliveira argued that due to his circumstance, that he was a resident of the home and practically apart of the family, he should receive coverage under the household member policy exception. The Commerce insurance policy allowed for $250,000 of coverage per person in underinsured motorist coverage for “damages for bodily injury to people injured or killed as a result of certain accidents caused by someone who does not have enough insurance.”

The Appeals Court ultimately noted that, because the plaintiff was not related by blood, that the coverage would not have and should not have applied in this particular case. The phrase “related by blood” implies that the two people, in comparison, would have a genetic relation. The plaintiff’s main point of contention was not that he was related to the policyholders, but that because he had a son with his girlfriend, that the policyholders have a genetic relationship with his child, therefore making him eligible.  This case may get further appellate review by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  It appears that the Appeals Court took an overly narrow reading of the phrase related by blood in denying coverage.  I would expect the SJC to reverse this decision if the case was appealed further.

If you were involved in a car accident and have any questions, feel free to contact us at DelSignore Law. We are happy to walk you through the process and explain to you what you should expect.

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