The holiday season is often a time to gather with family and friends. Sometimes, people consider their in-laws and even their ex-in-laws to be family and relatives worthy to be visited during the holidays, particularly if there are children involved. But does this analysis carry over for insurance coverage?
The Arizona Court of Appeals recently weighed in on this question.1 Following a fire at her mother-in-law’s home, an injured daughter-in-law sought coverage under her mother-in-law’s “House & Home Policy.” At the time of the fire, the policyholder’s daughter-in-law and her husband were living with the policyholder. The policy contained the following definition:
Insured person(s)—means you and, if a resident of your household:
a) any relative; and
b) any person under the age of 21 in your care.
The fire had destroyed personal property and inflicted serious physical injuries to the daughter-in-law, her husband, and her son (the policyholder’s son and grandson). Claims were submitted to the mother-in-law’s insurance carrier. Regarding liability coverage, the policy excluded coverage for “bodily injury to an insured person . . . whenever any benefit of this coverage would accrue directly or indirectly to an insured person” and coverage for “bodily injury to any insured person or regular resident of the insured premises.”
The injured daughter-in-law argued those exclusions should not apply because she was not a “relative” of her mother-in-law. She maintained that the term “relative” was not defined in the policy, it was ambiguous, and should be construed narrowly in her favor to mean “someone must be related by ‘blood’ or ‘common descent.’ ” The Court of Appeals disagreed and found her construction of the term inconsistent with Arizona precedent.
The court concluded that:
“[U]sually, ‘relative’ is defined as persons connected by blood (consanguinity) or marriage (affinity).”. . . . We see no reason to deviate from our prior interpretation of the term “relative.”2
In other words, unless defined otherwise in the policy, Arizona courts will interpret the term “relative” to mean one connected by blood or marriage. The court found that the daughter-in-law was a “relative” to her mother-in-law for purposes of applying the exclusion.
What about former in-laws? In an earlier case, the Court of Appeals considered whether an ex-son-in-law was a “relative” under his former-mother-in-law’s homeowners insurance policy.3 In that instance, even after the divorce, the ex-son-in-law lived with the policyholder’s daughter after the divorce, received mail at his former mother-in-law’s address, visited his children living with his ex-wife at that address, and was “commonly thought of” as a relative.
The policy, in that case, provided:
4. “insured” means you and, if residents of your household,
(a) your relatives;
The term “relative” was not defined in this policy. The appellate court explained:
Courts have defined the term “relative” in a number of ways, depending upon the circumstances and context in which the term is used. Usually, “relative” is defined as persons connected by blood (consanguinity) or marriage (affinity). In this case, the policyholder’s daughter had been divorced for many years before the incident giving rise to the claim of coverage. The divorce decree forever terminates the bonds of matrimony unless the parties remarry. Because the ex-son-in-law was not related to the policyholder by blood or marriage at the time material herein, the only conclusion the trial court could reach was that he was not an insured.
* * *
His relationships with his children and ex-wife after the divorce were not relevant to the issue of his legal relationship to his former mother-in-law. In insurance cases, one not a relative by blood or marriage is not covered as a relative.4
In other words, in the case of connection by marriage, if the marital bonds are terminated at the time of the loss, the person is not a “relative”
So, although one may consider their in-laws (including their ex-in-laws) to be family, they may not be a “relative” for purposes of insurance coverage in Arizona.
1 Allstate Vehicle and Prop. Ins. Co. v. Maile, No. 1 CA-CV 17-0723, 2018 WL 5116546 (Ariz. App. Oct. 18, 2018).
2 Maile, 2018 WL 5116546 at * 2 (citations omitted; emphasis added).
3 Groves v. State Farm Life & Cas. Co., 171 Ariz. 191, 829 P.2d 1237 (Ariz. App. 1992).
4 Groves, 171 Ariz. at 192, 829 P.2d at 1238 (emphasis added).