Griffith v. Security Ins. Co. of Hartford

Decision Date14 January 1975
Citation167 Conn. 450,356 A.2d 94
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Joseph F. Skelley, Jr., Hartford, for appellant (defendant).

Thomas C. Marshall, with whom was Brian C. Carey, New Britain, for appellees (plaintiffs).

Joel Rottner, Skelley & Walsh, P. C., Hartford, for Security Insurance Company.


HOUSE, Chief Justice.

This case arose from an accident in which the fifteen-year-old plaintiff, Richard Griffith, son of the plaintiffs Granville and Violet Griffith, was injured. The accident involved his bicycle and an uninsured automobile. At the time of the accident, there was in effect an automobile insurance policy issued by the defendant to Granville Griffith. The plaintiffs applied to the Superior Court for an order directing the defendant company to proceed with arbitration in accordance with the provisions of § 52-410 of the General Statutes and the decision of this court in Frager v. Pennsylvania General Ins. Co., 155 Conn. 270, 231 A.2d 531. In their application, the plaintiffs alleged that by the terms of the insurance policy Richard was an insured and legally entitled to recover damages sustained as the result of the operation of an uninsured motor vehicle. By a more specific statement filed after the court had issued an order to the defendant to appear and show cause why the application should not be granted, the plaintiffs pleaded that at the time of the accident 'the home address of the plaintiffs, Richard Griffith and Violet Griffith was 93 Whiting Street, New Britain. The home address of the plaintiff, Granville Griffith, was primarily 450 Main Street, New Britain, and secondarily 93 Whiting Street, New Britain.' The defendant company denied the allegation that Richard was an insured under the provisions of the policy issued to his father. By way of special defense, it pleaded that at all times covered by the complaint Granville Griffith resided at 450 Main Street, New Britain; that both Violet Griffith and Richard Griffith resided at 93 Whiting Street, New Britain; and that, since the plaintiff Granville and the plaintiffs Violet and Richard were not residents of the same household, the coverage extended under the subject insurance policy did not extend to the latter two plaintiffs. After a hearing, the court rendered judgment ordering the defendant to arbitrate the questions covered, under the arbitration clause of part IV of the policy issued to Granville Griffith.

The decisive issue before the trial court was whether Richard was an insured under the terms of the policy issued to his father. Part IV of the policy concerning 'Protection Against Uninsured Motorist' provided for protection for 'the insured or his legal representative.' Under 'Definitions' Part IV provided: 'The definitions under Part I, except the definition of 'insured,' apply to Part IV and under Part IV: 'insured' means: (a) the named insured and any relative.' Part I of the policy provided: "relative' means a relative of the named insured who is a resident of the same household.' Hence, the basic question at issue was whether the father, Granville Griffith, and his son, Richard, were residents of the same household so that Richard was an insured under the terms of the policy. The court concluded that they were residents of the same household, that Richard was an insured under the terms of the policy, and that the plaintiffs had the right to compel the defendant to arbitrate since uninsured motorists coverage was available. It rendered judgment accordingly, and it is from this judgment that the defendant has appealed.

On its appeal the defendant assigned as error the conclusions of the court to which we have just referred, claiming that the facts set forth in the finding do not support them. It has further assigned error in three paragraphs of the court's finding as facts found without evidence and in refusing to find material facts as set forth in eleven paragraphs of the defendant's draft finding which facts the defendant claims were undisputed.

Before discussing the assignments of error, it is pertinent to refer again to the general rules governing the interpretation of written contracts, including insurance policies. 'When the language of a policy is plain and unambiguous the terms must be accorded their natural and ordinary meaning. LaBonte v. Federal Mutual Ins. Co., 159 Conn. 252, 256, 168 A.2d 663; Lyon v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 140 Conn. 304, 99 A.2d 141.' DeRubbo v. Aetna Ins. Co., 161 Conn. 388, 392, 288 A.2d 430, 433. 'A court will not torture words to import ambiguity where the ordinary meaning leaves no room for ambiguity, and words do not become ambiguous simply because lawyers or laymen contend for different meanings. A. M. Larson Co. v. Lawlor Ins. Agency, Inc., 153 Conn. 618, 622, 220 A.2d 32; Downs v. National Casualty Co., . . . 146 Conn. 490, 494, 152 A.2d 316.' Marcolini v. Allstate Ins. Co., 160 Conn. 280, 284, 278 A.2d 796, 799. No persuasive argument or legal authority has been submitted for the proposition that the controlling words of the policy 'resident of the same household,' are ambiguous. The Supreme Courts of Hawaii and Minnesota, in considering the same provisions in insurance policies, have concluded that the words are not ambiguous, and we agree with their conclusions. Mun Quon Kok v. Pacific Ins. Co., 51 Haw. 470, 462 P.2d 909; Smitke v. Travelers Indemnity Co., 264 Minn. 212, 118 N.W.2d 217.

The common and ordinary meaning of 'household' as defined in Webster's Third New International Dictionary is: 'those who dwell under the same roof and compose a family: a domestic establishment; specif: a social unit comprised of those living together in the same dwelling place.' To the same effect, see 41 C.J.S. 367; see also Rathbun v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 144 Conn. 165, 169, 128 A.2d 327.

As we have noted, the defendant has attacked the court's conclusion that the plaintiffs Granville and Richard were residents of the same household. 'The court's conclusions are to be tested by the finding. Brockett v. Jensen, 154 Conn. 328, 331, 225 A.2d 190. The conclusions reached by the court must stand unless they are legally or logically inconsistent with the facts found or unless they involve the application of some erroneous rule of law material to the case. Johnston Jewels, Ltd. v. Leonard, 156 Conn. 75, 79, 239 A.2d 500; Craig v. Dunleavy, 154 Conn. 100, 105, 221 A.2d 855.' Barnini v. Sun Oil Co., 161 Conn. 59, 63, 283 A.2d 217, 219.

It is not questioned that Granville and Violet Griffith had been divorced for four years at the time of the accident in question. She lived with their son Richard and their other sons and daughters at 93 Whiting Street, and Granville lived at 450 Main Street about one-half mile away. The divorce did not significantly change the relationship between Granville and the children; he supported them, saw them frequently, took them on trips and was visited by them, including Richard, at his Main Street address. He frequently went to 93 Whiting Street, often stayed overnight and baby-sat there. He also kept clothes and a razor at 93 Whiting Street and had meals with his children three to seven times a week. All of these uncontested findings clearly indicate a close paternal relationship between Granville Griffith and his children but, in view of the fact that it is also undisputed that he lived at 450 Main Street, one-half mile away from 93 Whiting Street, they do not support an additional finding that he lived at 93 Whiting Street so that he and Richard were members of the same household and that finding has been attacked.

Several paragraphs of the defendant's draft finding recited facts relevant to Granville's maintenance of his own separate apartment and household on Main Street from which he frequently visited his children at 93 Whiting Street. The court refused to find these facts and this refusal has been assigned as error. This court may correct a finding which fails to include admitted or undisputed facts, having due regard to the principle that the trier of fact is the judge of the credibility of witnesses. Salvatore v. Milicki, 163 Conn. 275, 277, 303 A.2d 734; Solari v. Seperak,154 Conn. 179, 182, 224 A.2d 529; Practice Book § 627. We may also consult the court's memorandum of decision better to understand the basis of its decision and to interpret its finding. Bridgeport Pipe Engineering Co. v. DeMatteo Construction Co., 159 Conn. 242, 247, 268 A.2d 391; Craig v. Dunleavy, 154 Conn. 100, 221 A.2d 855. In examining the court's memorandum of decision in connection with its refusal to find paragraphs of the draft finding which recite relevant facts taken directly from that memorandum, we find a strange inconsistency. For example, the memorandum of decision states: 'The father voted from Main Street and registered his automobile at that address. Nevertheless, the court refused to find as requested by the defendant that '(t)he Plaintiff Granville Griffith's automobile registration listed his home address as Main Street and refused to find that '(t)he Plaintiff Granville Griffith's residence as a voter was Main Street. Similarly, relevant to the question of whether Granville and Richard were residents of the same household, the court noted in its memorandum of decision that 'on the date of their son's injury the wife lived with the plaintiff-minor and four other children at the . . . (Whiting) Street address and the father at the Main Street address,' yet it refused to find that '(t)he Plaintiff Richard Griffith lived at Whiting Street. Furthermore, not only did the plaintiffs not dispute the facts stated in the defendant's draft findings in question but in their testimony they admitted them, as disclosed by the evidence printed in the appendix to the defendant's brief. The plaintiff...

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