Insurance Coverage and the Carless College Student

By: Lorraine R. Mertell

In a few weeks, parents around the country will be packing up their college students and sending them off to school. And many of those students, particularly the freshman, will not have cars. That does not necessarily mean they won’t be involved in car accidents though, because carless students are always looking to borrow a car from their roommate, classmate or even someone they have met at a party whom they barely know. And sometimes, college students being what they are, a payment has been missed on those insurance premiums and the vehicle isn’t insured.

And then comes one of those calls that parents fear to get, where their child informs them that they were involved in a car accident, they were driving, someone else has been injured, the insurance certificate in the vehicle shows that it is expired and the vehicle is uninsured. If you are a parent who receives such a call, where do you turn now? Setting aside for the moment the issue of the charges that may be levied for operating without insurance, there is the problem of coverage for the accident and the injuries it caused.

If you own a motor vehicle, your personal auto policy provides coverage for your “family members,” meaning any person related to you by blood, marriage or adoption who is a resident of your household. This coverage follows the individual and applies even to vehicles that are not listed as covered vehicles under the auto policy.

So if the student/child involved in the accident is a resident of your household, then your coverage on your personal auto policy applies. But, the question of whether a college student is a resident of the parent’s household can be tricky, particularly in the case of divorced parents where both have shared custody of the child.

A person can have more than one residence for insurance coverage purposes. Whether a person is a resident of a household within the meaning of an auto policy requires more than temporary or mere physical presence. There must be some degree of permanency and an intention to remain. There are often questions of fact involved. Factors that may be relevant include:

  1. the address on the student’s driver’s license;
  2. voting registration address;
  3. address for purposes such as banking and credit card statements;
  4. whether there was a bedroom maintained for the student within the household;
  5. whether personal property was left behind in the household during the school year indicating an intention to return;
  6. the address where holiday breaks and vacations were spent;
  7. the actual historical pattern of past residency,
  8. whether the student had a key to the household.

If your college student/child has been involved in a motor vehicle accident with an uninsured non-owned vehicle, you should put your personal auto carrier on notice promptly. The facts concerning residency can be developed in due course – do not delay in providing the notice required by your carrier.