Alfa Mutual Ins. Co. v. Warren

Supreme Court of Alabama

Marshall County | No. 1210008 | Sept. 30, 2022

Court Rules Foster Children Not Covered as "Family Members" under UIM Insurance Policy

In 2019, three children of Warren were involved in a fatal vehicle accident while being transported for visitation. The accident led to Warren filing a negligence claim against several parties, including Alfa, the insurer for the children’s foster caregiver, Bridget Massey. At issue was whether the children were covered under the uninsured/underinsured-motorist (UIM) provisions of Massey's policy, particularly the definition of "family members." Alfa contended that as foster children, they were not "family members" and hence not eligible for UIM benefits.

The policy defined "family members" as individuals related by blood, marriage, or adoption and living with the insured. Notably, it didn't explicitly mention foster children. Alfa's motion for a summary judgment to dismiss the UIM claim was initially denied by the trial court. However, Alfa appealed this decision.

Historical court decisions on similar matters, such as Allstate Ins. v. Shelton and Cadwallader, have leaned towards a narrow interpretation of 'relative' in insurance policies, typically denoting those related by blood or marriage. These rulings often emphasize the insurer's prerogative to define their policy terms. Alabama's UIM statute, meant to safeguard policyholders against uninsured drivers, lacked any mandate to include foster children in the "family member" definition.

The court ultimately reversed the trial court's ruling, granting Alfa's motion for a summary judgment. They concluded that under the specific insurance policy, foster children are not deemed "family members."

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