Ferro v. Weiner, 2019 ONCA 55, 144 OR (3d) 414

Full Decision

Counsel:

  • Brian J. Smith, for Appellant
  • Paul Weiner, personal representative of Enid Weiner, deceased
  • William G. Woodward, for Respondents

Judge: C.W. Hourigan J.A., B.W. Miller J.A., and G.T. Trotter J.A.

A young man drowned at a cottage owned by Enid Weiner. The drowning occurred at a 2010 graduation party put on by Enid Weiner’s adult son, wife, and daughter (the hosts). The deceased’s parents and sister sued the hosts. Following a motion for summary judgment, the motion judge held that Intact Insurance had a duty to indemnify the hosts. Enid Weiner’s homeowner’s policy provided coverage for the insured’s relatives “while living in the same household” as the named insured. Even though Enid Weiner had been living in a nursing home since 2009, the motion judge held that the hosts were “living in the same household”, and were therefore indemnified under the policy. The court reached this conclusion because:

  • The hosts continued to use the cottage even though Enid Weiner was living in a nursing home;
  • Enid Weiner stayed with the hosts at the cottage from time to time;
  • Enid Weiner’s son cared from the home as if he were the owner.

Based on the above facts, the motion judge ruled that the hosts were more than mere visitors, and were in fact living in the same household as the named insured.

On appeal, the Court clarified that the appropriate standard of review was correctness. The interpretation of an insurance policy raises a question of law. Moreover, the provision in question formed part of a standard homeowner’s policy, and therefore “its interpretation…had precedential value for other insurance policies”.

The Court held that the motion judge answered the wrong question. Evidence about the son’s connection to the property was relevant to whether the son was “living in” the same household. However, such evidence was not relevant to whether the hosts were living in “the same household”. According to the Court, a “household” is akin to a kind of “community”. It is defined by the characteristics of “intimacy, stability, and a common purpose characteristic of a functioning family unit”. What is essential is “the degree to which the choices and actions of all members of the household are motivated by an interest in the life that of all that gives it a unity”. A household is also to be defined by is members’ settled intentions. For example, a person can be a member of a household despite lengthy absences (e.g. university students who move away during the academic year, parents who travel a lot for work, an estranged spouse who has the intention of reconciling).

It is very hard to have more than one household. Such a situation usually only arises with the children of divorced couples who live with more than one parent.

Co-residence alone is not sufficient to establish residence in a “household”. If it appears that the relative was more akin to a visitor, or maintained a separate life, it will be very difficult to establish residence in a “household”.

The Court overturned the motion judge. The facts were incapable of establishing residence in a “household”. Enid Weiner and the hosts lived completely separate lives. There was no evidence that they organized their lives in conjunction. The Court did leave open the possibility of expanding the definition of household to persons living in more than one household (aside from the children of divorced couples). The Court wrote:

Applying the established common law understanding of “household,” the facts found by the motion judge were incapable of supporting a finding that Enid and Scott, Sandy, and Regan had a common life with the intimacy, unity, and permanence required to constitute a household. At the time of the accident, Enid was living in a nursing home. Scott lived with his family in the city and had organized his life around his urban household. Prior to entering the nursing home, Enid lived with Scott’s brother, and not with Scott and his family. In the words of Rand J. in Bell, at p. 585, he maintained a “separate identity of life” from his mother Enid. Unlike in Canadian Universities’, Scott clearly did not see Enid’s house as “home base”: para. 25. There was no compelling evidence that either Scott or Enid organized their lives in conjunction with each other to the degree described in Bell and subsequent cases.

It may be possible, conceptually, for a person to belong to more than one household. But the categories recognized to date are few, relating only to minor children. In any event, there is insufficient evidence on this record of a shared life together.

Jordan Kofman
Written by

Jordan's practice focuses on motor vehicle accidents, occupiers’ liability, product liability, municipal liability, medical malpractice, wrongful death, accident benefits, and long-term disability claims.

In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, downhill skiing, road cycling, and fishing. Jordan is also an avid NFL and Toronto Blue Jays fan.