August 2, 2022

Pennsylvanian Afforded Insurance Coverage for Secondary Residence

State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. unsuccessfully attempted to rescind a home insurance policy on a house that burned down while undergoing renovations because the homeowner was not using the house as her “residence premises” at the time of the fire.

Isenberg v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., No. 21-cv-1147, 2022 WL 1720334 (W.D. Pa. May 27, 2022)

In this matter, the plaintiff purchased a home in New Castle, Pennsylvania in 2018. Thereafter, the plaintiff moved personal belongings into the home, paid property taxes and utility bills, and had her paystubs reflect the New Castle address while the house underwent extensive renovations. Plaintiff kept a separate apartment with her family throughout the renovation process (where she typically stayed). There was also evidence the Plaintiff was physically present at the house on an almost daily basis and occasionally slept at the house.

In May 2020, a fire destroyed the house, and Plaintiff sought coverage under her homeowners policy. The homeowner carrier investigated the loss and rescinded Plaintiff’s policy, claiming she was not using the house as her “residence premises.” Plaintiff sued in Pennsylvania state court. The carrier removed the matter to the Western District of Pennsylvania and moved for summary judgment.

As noted, the carrier asserted the Plaintiff was not using the property as a residence at the time of the fire. The carrier additionally argued a person could only have one “residence” under Pennsylvania law.  In denying the carriers motion, the Court found the Plaintiff had established the house as a secondary residence. The Plaintiff’s contact with the house was not sporadic; rather, it was habitual, constant, and carried out to transform the property into her full-time family home, the judge said, citing Gerow v. State Auto Property & Casualty Co., 346 F. Supp. 3d 769 (W.D. Pa. 2018), and Morton v. Gardner, 488 F. Supp. 3d 200 (W.D. Pa. 2020). Consequently, the house was deemed a residence premises and fell within the coverage of the homeowner insurance policy.


                                                                        O’BRIEN FIRM

                                                                        /s/ William F. O’Brien

                                                                        WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN, ESQUIRE