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Trial Court Correctly Determined That the Negligent Driver of a Vehicle Was Not a Covered Driver on the Policy Thus Not Insured Under the Vehicle Owner’s Umbrella Policy

Teresa N. Rigby, et al. v. Allstate Indemnity Company
No. 263, Sept. Term, 2014 (filed September 30, 2015)

by Matthew J. McCloskey, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Available at: http://www.mdcourts.gov/opinions/cosa/2015/0263s14.pdf

In a recent reported opinion, Teresa N. Rigby, et al. v. Allstate Indemnity Company, No. 263, Sept. Term, 2014 (filed September 30, 2015), the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held that the trial court correctly determined that the driver of an automobile was not a dependent or in the care of the automobile owner, and thus was not covered under the owner’s umbrella insurance policy.

In June 2011, Ashley Sims’ automobile broke down on the side of a road in Baltimore City. Officer Teresa Rigby responded, and tow truck operator Herman E. Griffiths later arrived to tow Ms. Sims’ car. While those three individuals (collectively, “plaintiffs”) were in or around Ms. Sims’ vehicle, Robert Vanderford negligently drove a vehicle into Officer Rigby’s cruiser, which was propelled forward and severely injured plaintiffs. Plaintiffs sued Mr. Vanderford, and the cases were consolidated.

At the time of the accident, Mr. Vanderford was driving a vehicle owned by Lawrence Archembeault (the “policy-holder”), a man with whom Mr. Vanderford lived. The policy-holder maintained two insurance policies with Allstate Indemnity Company: an automobile insurance policy providing $500,000 of liability coverage, and an umbrella policy providing $5,000,000 of coverage for negligence. In pertinent part, the umbrella policy extended coverage to “any dependent person in [the policy-holder’s] care, if that person is a resident of your household.”

Because plaintiffs’ injuries totaled well over $500,000, plaintiffs sought to recover under the umbrella policy. Allstate obtained a stay in plaintiffs’ consolidated action against Mr. Vanderford, and filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination of whether the policy-holder’s umbrella coverage extended to Mr. Vanderford.

The following facts regarding Mr. Vanderford’s relationship with the policy-holder were undisputed. In 2008, Mr. Vanderford rented an apartment from the policy-holder in Albany, New York for less than a month. Mr. Vanderford then moved to the policy-holder’s home in Baltimore City, and lived there for the next three (3) years. On three (3) occasions during that time, Mr. Vanderford moved out of the policy-holder’s home, but he returned each time. While he lived at the residence, Mr. Vanderford would perform chores for the policy-holder. For two years, Mr. Vanderford was unemployed, and during that time the policy-holder covered all of Mr. Vanderford’s expenses and did not charge him rent. When Mr. Vanderford later obtained employment, he assumed responsibility for his own expenses and began to pay $600 per month in rent. The policy-holder permitted Mr. Vanderford to use his automobile, but Mr. Vanderford paid for fuel. Mr. Vanderford described the policy-holder as his father.

The trial court determined that the term “dependent person” in the umbrella policy was not ambiguous, and that Mr. Vanderford was not a dependent person within the meaning of the policy because he provided for himself and was free to move away from the policy-holder’s home if he wished. Accordingly, the court ruled that plaintiffs were not entitled to recover under the umbrella policy.

The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Court first noted that the term, “dependent,” and the phrase, “in the care of,” as set forth in the policy, were not synonymous. It therefore proceeded to analyze each term separately.

With respect to the term “dependent,” the Court adopted the definition set forth by the Kansas Supreme Court that a dependent person “is one who relies on another to provide ‘substantial contributions . . . , without which he would be unable to afford the reasonable necessities of life.” Here, Mr. Vanderford lived in the home of a person to whom he was not related, had a full time job, and paid rent to the policy-holder. As a result, he was not a “dependent” within the meaning of the umbrella policy.

With respect to the phrase, “in the care of,” the Court adopted a non-exclusive, eight-factor inquiry set forth by the Michigan Supreme Court, which considers: (1) is there a legal responsibility to care for the person; (2) is there some form of dependency; (3) is there a supervisory or disciplinary responsibility; (4) is the person providing the care providing substantial essential financial support; (5) is the living arrangement temporary or permanent, including how long it has been in existence and is expected to continue; (6) what is the age of the person alleged to be “in the care of” another (generally, the younger a person the more likely they are to be “in the care” of another); (7) what is the physical or mental health status of the person alleged to be “in the care of” another (a person with health problems is more likely to be “in the care” of another); and (8) is the person allegedly “in the care of” another gainfully employed (a person so employed is less likely to be truly dependent on another)? The Court determined that each of these factors aside from the second weighed in favor of finding that Mr. Vanderford was not “in the care of” the policy-holder. Consequently, the Court affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that the umbrella policy did not extend coverage to Mr. Vanderford.


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