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Household residency not determined by intent alone

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//October 4, 2021

Household residency not determined by intent alone

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//October 4, 2021//

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A woman who intended to live with her grandfather was not a member of his household and therefore not eligible for uninsured motorist coverage after she was injured in a traffic accident.

Subjective intent is a factor in determining whether someone is a household member but “this intent must also be coupled with objective indicia of becoming a part of the household unit.” Those indicators were not present in this case.


Estep was a passenger on a motorcycle operated by Elliot, her grandfather. Elliot was killed in a collision with a car Hubbard was driving. Estep was injured. She sued Hubbard and sought uninsured motorist coverage from her grandfather’s policies as a resident of her grandfather’s household.

The insurers agree Estep was Elliot’s relative but argue she was not a member of his household.

‘Transient lifestyle’

“At the time of the collision on August 9, 2020, Estep lived what can best be described as a transient lifestyle.

“As of July 2020, Estep had been residing with a boyfriend for approximately one year. In July 2020, she was briefly hospitalized. Following her discharge from the hospital, Estep moved into an ex-boyfriend’s home instead of returning to her boyfriend’s home.

“She stayed with her ex-boyfriend for approximately three weeks. Towards the end of July, she contacted Elliott’s wife, and arranged for the Elliotts to pick her up from her ex-boyfriend’s home and take her to her boyfriend’s home to collect her belongings.

“The day she retrieved her belongings from her boyfriend’s home (the day before the accident in this case), Estep returned to the Elliott’s house, placed her belongings in totes on the living room floor, spent some time with relatives by the pool, and then left to spend the night with her boyfriend.

“Estep returned to the Elliott’s house the next morning, which was August 9, 2020. Immediately after arriving at the Elliott’s house, she and her grandfather left for the fateful motorcycle ride that killed Elliott and injured Estep. At no time in the days leading up to the collision did Estep spend the night in the Elliott’s home.

“Estep maintains that as of the time of the collision, she had intended to move in with the Elliotts on a permanent basis. Elliott’s wife disputes this. Instead, the wife maintains that she and Elliott spoke with Estep when she arrived and told Estep she was only welcome to stay for a few days. Estep denies this conversation ever took place.”

Not a member

“Under Virginia law, ‘[t]he word “household” … connotes a settled status,’ of a family unit permanent in character living under the same roof. … Although subjective intent is relevant in determining if a person is a member of a household, this intent must also be coupled with objective indicia of becoming a part of the household unit. …

“‘Casual, erratic contacts are not sufficient.’ … A member of a household cannot be ‘a visitor and sojourner’ in a home. …

“The overwhelming evidence before the Court is that Estep was a ‘visitor’ or ‘sojourner’ in her grandfather’s home, and not a member of the household. While Estep claims that she intended to live permanently with Elliott, her actions do not convey the requisite contacts needed to demonstrate membership in Elliott’s household for the purpose of qualifying for UM coverage with the Insurers.”

Estep v. Hubbard, et al., Case No. CL20-2932; Sept. 14, 2021, Roanoke Circuit Court (Carson). D. Adam McKelvey, Mark K. Cathey, Sean C. Workowski for the parties. VLW 021-8-115, 4 pp.

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