Wrongful Death: American National v. Burns

Wyoming court rules a man convicted of a murder was not an insured “resident” under his mother’s homeowners insurance policy and the insurer cannot cite a policy exclusion for intentional acts to deny coverage of a wrongful death action brought by the victim’s family.

Dora Sam requested her insurer, American National, cover her defense in the wrongful death action. American National denied coverage and filed suit seeking a ruling that coverage was excluded under the policy as Phillip Sam was an insured “resident.”

The Tenth Circuit panel held that Wyoming law supports the position that, when the term “resident” is not defined under the policy, it is ambiguous. In the insurance context, when a term has two or more reasonable interpretations, a court must adopt the one that results in coverage for the policyholder.

Thus, the Tenth Circuit held that Phillip Sam was not a resident of his mother’s home for insurance purposes because he had been staying with his father just before the shooting and listed his father’s address as his residence in arrest records. Consequently, the policy exclusions did not apply and the insured was entitled to coverage of the wrongful death action under her homeowners insurance policy.