The Meaning of a Dependent Not Quite Clear

July 5, 2018

In the insurance policies of many insurers, provision is made for dependents. But what is the meaning of a dependent people ask?

And many people ask the question: “What constitutes a “dependent child” regarding the meaning of a dependent? And for instance “is a student undergoing motor mechanic apprenticeship a full-time student for purposes of the policy?”

These questions arose from a 3 Talk television interview with the Office of the Ombudsman who is an independent advocate, representing the interest of the public.

What is the Meaning of a dependent?

AMeaning of a Dependent complainant phoned into the programme to pose his question. His 22-year-old son had been killed in a motorbike accident. The son had cover under his father’s family life policy as a dependent child.

The insurer had declined the claim. The company said the deceased son could not be classified as a dependent child. That was because of the following reasons: he was 22- years old and was not a full-time student. The son had been working as a motor mechanic for a year and four months. He was also getting a salary.

The claimant argued his deceased son qualified as a “dependent child” because he was not yet 23. And he was still also a full-time student. TGhe insurer’s policy included the meaning of a dependent. The definition was: “a child from two years of age up to the age of 18 years or up to 23 years where the child is a full-time student”. The policy, however, did not define what a “full-time student” was.

What is a Full-time Student Exactly?

It was established that the deceased son was an “apprentice motor mechanic.” According to his contract, he was considered a learner who was undergoing modular training, both practical and theoretical. In this time, he was supervised by a qualified journeyman, meaning all work the son did was checked by his supervisor.

At the end of each training level, the apprentice would receive an evaluation by his mentor. Then he would be tested at an accredited training centre. That would determine his competency levels. But at the same time, he received remuneration and was still living at home.

Defining the terms – meaning of a dependent

Because there was no definition to the Ombudsman of the term, “full-time student” they consulted the South African Oxford English Dictionary for direction.

They discovered that a student is classified as ‘a person studying at a university or other place of higher learning as well as someone studying to enter a particular profession’. The definition of ‘full-time’ was:  occupying the time available the whole time.

The Ombudsman pointed out to the insurer that the “full-time student” phrase was wide enough to include a full-time apprentice, “apprentice” meaning “a person learning a trade from a skilled employer”. “Learning” was described as “acquiring knowledge of or skill in something through study or experience or by receiving lessons”.

Claimant Awarded Payment

It was clear from the response of the insurer that their intent was to aim at full-time students fully dependent on their parents. The question was: ‘does the policy accurately convey this’? An answer never came because the insurer, in wanting to solve the dispute, offered a suitable ex gratia payment to the claimant, which the claimant was happy to accept.

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* The Ombudsman speaks on YouTube

All info was correct at time of publishing