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Does ‘Damage to Property of Others’ Liability Extend to a Family Member? 

An insured’s son was mowing her lawn when the lawnmower threw a rock into the neighbor’s truck window. The son doesn’t want to file under his homeowners and feels that his mother’s HO3 should pay the claim. 
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does ‘damage to property of others’ liability extend to a family member? 

An insured's son was mowing her lawn when the lawnmower threw a rock into the neighbor's truck window. The son does not live with the mother. The carrier denied the claim because the son was liable and not an insured on this policy. The son doesn't want to file under his homeowners and feels that his mother's HO3 should pay the claim. 

The mother's policy provides $1,000 in coverage under the Damage to Property of Others section caused by an insured. The son's State Farm agent states that their policy would have paid this claim if the mother was with State Farm.

Q: Since the son was mowing his mother's lawn, would liability extend?

Response 1: You don't mention if the mower is a riding mower. If it is, the definition of “insured" clearly covers the son as an insured:

5. "Insured" means:

(2) With respect to a "motor vehicle" to which this policy applies:

c. Under Section II:

(a) Persons while engaged in your employ or that of any person included in a. or b. above; or

(b) Other persons using the vehicle on an "insured location" with your consent.

Where you really need to make your point is that the mother was probably liable for the damage since it resulted from the maintenance of her residence premises. Both the liability coverage and the Damage to Property of Others coverage will only apply if the “insured" (in this case, mom) is liable. 

Response 2: As far as the State Farm agent saying the claim would have covered the loss, has the agent shown that in the policy? The State Farm policy I found online clearly would not respond. I love it when I hear, "Another agent told my customer they would have covered that claim."

Response 3: On an ISO form, the son would be an insured if he was mowing the lawn with a riding mower but not a regular mower. However, the Damage to Property of Others section doesn't cover property damage caused by a riding mower. 

The 2019 State Farm homeowners policy I reviewed recently would not provide liability to the son for using a riding mower unless the son were an employee. The son would not be an insured under either policy for using a regular mower since he's not a resident relative. 

Response 4: I would contact the claims manager as I feel the adjuster is not using common sense. Had the mother done the damage, there would not be an issue. The adjuster is overcomplicating a simple write-the-check issue for the damages to the truck window.

Response 5: Sorry, but I can't resist noting that it's easy for State Farm to say what they said! More seriously, your insured's son is not strictly speaking an insured under the policy, and it is unclear to me whether or not any negligence was involved—that's a question of fact.

Is there comprehensive coverage in place on the neighbor's truck, possibly with no glass deductible? That would be the happiest case. If negligence is asserted and found, that would be a third-party property damage liability claim, which would not fall under the no-fault Damage to Property of Others section, and would presumably be covered through the son's policy.

Response 6: The coverage applies to damage caused by an insured. Liability has nothing to do with it, but the definition of "insured" is critical. Since the son doesn't live with his mother, he's not an insured, so there's no coverage for damage caused by him. The damage was caused by the lawnmower, so if it belongs to the mother, the claim is clearly covered.

I'd argue that since the term "caused by an insured" in this case is ambiguous, it should be resolved in favor of the insured and the claim paid. Damage to someone's property arising from the act of cutting the insured's lawn, whether by the insured or somebody else, could certainly be considered damage caused by an insured. That, of course, is an insurance agent's opinion and would require an attorney's opinion to be worth anything. 

More importantly, refusing to pay this claim looks stupid and cheap. It's the sort of thing that gives all of us, and the industry in general, a bad name. 

This question was originally submitted by an agent through the Big “I" Virtual University's (VU) Ask an Expert service, with responses curated from multiple VU faculty members. Answers to other coverage questions are available on the VU website. If you need help accessing the website, request login information.

Friday, September 9, 2022
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