Mountain Valley Indemnity Co. v. Hylton, 2020 NY Slip Op 34347(U) (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Dec. 1, 2020)

This case involved an insurance coverage dispute arising out of an underlying action for personal injuries allegedly sustained by the claimant when she tripped and fell on the exterior stairs of a premises owned by Petronia Hylton and insured under a homeowner’s policy issued by Mountain Valley Indemnity Company.

Mountain Valley initially agreed to defend Hylton based on her representation that she resided at the premises at the time of the accident, as required by the policy. However, Hylton later testified that she did not reside at the premises at the time of the accident, and had resided at a different address—the address designated on her driver’s license—for the past 20 years. Based on this testimony, Mountain Valley disclaimed coverage because the premises did not qualify as a “residence premises.”

Mountain Valley commenced a declaratory judgment action and moved for summary judgment based on Hylton’s sworn deposition that she did not reside at the insured premises at the time of the claimant’s accident. In opposition, Hylton argued that she had lied under oath and that she did in fact reside at the insured premises at the time of the accident. Alternatively, Hylton argued that Mountain Valley’s disclaimer was untimely according to Insurance Law 3420(d) and, thus, invalid as a matter of law.

The court granted Mountain Valley’s motion and declared that the carrier had no duty to defend or indemnify Hylton because her “unsupported and conclusory assertion of residency” was insufficient to defeat summary judgment on “residence premises” grounds. The court emphasized that the Hylton failed to offer “a shred of evidence,” such as a utility bill, to support her assertion that she resided at the premises, or any explanation as to why her driver’s license listed a different address. Further, the court held that the timeliness of Mountain Valley’s coverage disclaimer was irrelevant because an insurer is not required to disclaim when a loss falls outside the scope of a policy’s coverage.

This decision confirms that, for coverage to apply, the “residence premises” definition of a homeowner’s policy requires that the insured reside at the premises at the time of the loss. It also addresses the inapplicability of the timely disclaimer requirements of Insurance Law 3420(d) when a claim is not covered because the insured failed to satisfy the residency requirement. Finally, it addresses the situation faced by insurers when an insured attempts to avert summary judgment with conclusory allegations of residency and no documentary evidence.

Mountain Valley Insurance Company was represented by partner Kevin F. Buckley and associate Tania Gondiosa.