February 3, 2010
By Bob Coleman
Coleman, Chambers, Rogers & Williams, LLP
If someone in my family was driving my car when they were hit by another driver, would my uninsured motorist coverage cover their injuries?
Probably. Georgia law provides that your uninsured motorist coverage (UM) covers you and anyone using your car at the time of the accident. It should also cover any members of your family who live with you or could be considered "resident relatives."
Georgia law divides the types of people covered by your UM policy into two categories - "household" and "users." Household coverage is the larger category and includes a broad range of people potentially covered by your policy. It includes both the named insured, your spouse, and any resident relatives. Resident relatives can potentially include anyone who lives with you and is related - children, grandchildren, grandparents, etc. A recent change to the Georgia law in 2006 also allows foster children to be covered under household coverage. Anyone considered part of your household for UM purposes is potentially covered by the UM policy anywhere they go in any vehicle.
However, it's not always clear who qualifies as a resident relative for UM purposes, and there is a lot of gray area in the law. This is often an issue with college students and children living part time with separated parents. Georgia courts consider the following test for determining whether someone is covered as a resident relative: 1) they must be more than transient visitors; 2) receive some financial support; and 3) demonstrate an intent to return.
The second class of people covered by your UM policy are "users." This includes anyone driving or riding as a passenger in your vehicle with your implied consent. The only requirement for users is that they be "using" the vehicle at the time of the accident, and have your consent to use the car.
So if my son comes home from college for the weekend and wrecks my car, is he covered by my UM policy?
It depends. But because he's driving or even riding in the car he would be covered as a "user" of your automobile and therefore he's covered by the policy. However, this gets tricky if, say, he didn't have permission to use the car. The law says the user must have permission, or implied permission, to use the car at the time. So if you told him earlier that he couldn't use the car, there's an argument to be made he's not covered because he's not a permitted user.
However, even if he is not considered a permitted user, he may still be covered. Even though he's off at college most of the year, he could still be considered part of your household coverage. For example, if you could establish he is more than a transient visitor (still keeps his own room, visits for long periods over breaks, etc.); and he receives financial support (your paying the tuition or some living expenses, etc.) and he shows an intent to return (he left his laundry with mom, etc.) then you have a strong argument that your college student is still a member of your household.
But keep in mind this depends on the circumstances. It's not always clear whether someone like an adult child, separated spouse, or other relative fits the household category.