Imagine this unfortunate situation: You arrive at your brother’s house to attend a party and while you are there you are bitten by his dog. In addition to suffering great pain from the attack, you may also end up with physical and mental scars as a permanent reminder of this incident.
At Stark & Stark, we recognize that dog bites can have a devastating impact on a person. In this hypothetical situation there would be no exclusion preventing a non-resident family member from pursuing a case against the brother’s homeowner’s policy. While an insurance company may include language in a homeowner’s policy which excludes coverage for a resident of a household who gets bitten in their own residence there is no such exclusion if the injured party does not reside there. In Sierfeld v. Sierfeld, 414 N.J. Super. 85 (App. Div. 2010), our Appellate Division ruled that in determining whether a person is a resident of a household, for purposes of exclusion in a homeowner’s policy, courts consider whether the injured person had his/her own bedroom, kept clothing and toiletries in the home, registered, insured and stored a car at the home, and performed household repairs.
Courts can also consider whether the parties purchased food and household goods jointly or separately, allocated homemaking and housekeeping responsibilities and dined together or independently, whether fair market value rent was charged or utilities paid, and whether arrangements were purely economic or broader, encompassing shared companionship as well as living facilities. Accordingly, in instances where a family member is merely visiting another relative’s home when a dog bite attack occurs, there would clearly be no exclusion preventing the injured party from seeking a recovery for their injuries.