Blog Archives

New Jersey Court Rejects Theory of Spoliation By Encouragement

Three years out, Superstorm Sandy litigation continues to wend its way through New Jersey’s courts.  Last weekend, a federal judge in the state handed a victory to the insurer in Stiso v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155762, 2015 WL 7296081 (D.N.J., Nov. 18, 2015).  In doing so, the court reaffirmed the enforceability of what it called anti-concurrent causation (ACC) “lead-in” language.  It also rejected the doctrine of “spoliation based on encouragement” – the policyholders had argued that they could not meet the burden of showing that all of their loss was caused by a covered peril because the carrier had “actively encouraged” them to begin repair early on and thereby “persuaded” them to destroy

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Posted in Anti-Concurrent Causation, Flood, Sewer Backup, Spoliation, Superstorm Sandy, Water

New Jersey Panel: If a Flood Is Excluded, So Are the Unhealthy Water-Borne Substances that It Leaves Behind

Yesterday, a unanimous panel of New Jersey’s intermediate level appellate court rejected policyholder arguments that even though flood was excluded, the proximate cause of their Superstorm Sandy loss was the non-excluded peril of damage from “unhealthy water-borne substances” left behind by the receding water.  In Riccio v. Allstate N.J. Ins. Co., 2015 WL 6181466, 2015 N.J. Super. LEXIS 2417 (N.J. App., Oct. 22, 2015), the judges recognized that to hold otherwise would render the flood exclusions in homeowner’s policies meaningless. The insureds owned a home in Little Silver that was inundated by 20”-36” of water when a creek behind their property overflowed its banks during Superstorm Sandy on October 29, 2012.  They initially attempted to clean the house themselves, removing

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Posted in Contamination, Flood, Homeowners Coverage, Microorganisma, Superstorm Sandy, Water

New Jersey Judge Writes a Primer on How Not to Draft a Denial Letter

Last month, a federal trial court in New Jersey shot down an insurer’s arguments that it had unambiguously denied coverage for Superstorm Sandy damage in a letter to the insured.  In Liguori v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyds, 2015WL 4402851. 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93090 (D.N.J., Jul. 17, 2015),  the judge found that correspondence announcing that the carrier was “pleased to inform you” that wind damage was covered while flood was “expressly excluded” and concluding with what he called an “open-ended statement that the letter could be amended should new information become available” simply did not pass muster as a formal denial. The insureds owned a home in Seaside Heights that was demolished by the storm on October 29, 2012, and

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Posted in Homeowners Coverage, Hurricane, Loss Adjustment, Suit Limitation, Superstorm Sandy

New York Court: Broadly-Worded Flood Limit “Meaningless” Unless it Applies to Any Kind of Loss Caused by Flood

Yesterday in El-Ad West LLC v. Zurich American Ins. Co., 2015 WL 4078762, 2015 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5753 (N.Y.App.Div., Jul. 7, 2015), a unanimous panel of New York’s intermediate level appellate court held that a flood sub-limit capped all loss caused by flood, without regard to whether it was physical damage to property or a “downstream” financial loss such as delay in completion.  In the words of the opinion, reading the contract of insurance in such a way as to find that the flood sub-limit did not apply to delay in completion losses “would render the flood limit meaningless with respect to that coverage.”  The panel thereby affirmed a Superstorm Sandy decision that we reported on in July of

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Posted in Builders' Risk, Delay in Completion, Flood, Superstorm Sandy

Order of Civil Authority Claim for Superstorm Sandy Barred by Flooding Exclusion in New York

On Thursday of last week, a federal court in New York City tossed an Order of Civil Authority (OCA) claim by a New York City law firm in Bamundo, Zwal & Schermerhorn, LLP v. Sentinel Ins. Co., 2015 WL 1408873, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39409 (S.D.N.Y., Mar. 26, 2016).  The policy extended coverage to loss of business income caused by an OCA issued “as the result of a Covered Cause of Loss,” but it excluded flooding from the definition of that term. The insured was a law firm with offices on John Street in lower Manhattan.  On October 28, 2012, the Mayor of New York City issued an executive order evacuating all homes and business located in the area.  Superstorm

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Posted in Bad Faith, Flood, Order of Civil Authority, Superstorm Sandy

New Jersey Trial Court Holds Storm Surge Not Subject to Flood Sublimit Where Policy Expressly Includes “Ensuing Storm Surge” in Named Windstorm Coverage

In recent years, many courts have held that storm surge is a species of excluded flood loss; we reported on a New York example in July.  This week, in Public Serv. Enter. Group, v. ACE Amer. Ins. Co., 2015 WL 1428370, Unpub. LEXIS 620 (N.J.Super., Mar. 23, 2015), a New Jersey trial court granted summary judgment to Public Service Electric & Gas (PSEG) and held that the flood sublimit did not apply to a claim for Superstorm Sandy loss from storm surge where the contracts of insurance specifically recited that coverage for a “named windstorm” – which was not subject to any sublimit  –  included “ensuing storm surge.” Eight large PSEG generating stations and a number of smaller distribution facilities

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Posted in Causation, Efficient Proximate Cause, Ensuing Loss, Flood, Superstorm Sandy, Windstorm

New Jersey Court Holds $22 Million “Named Storm” Deductible Applicable to a Superstorm Sandy Loss

On October 29th, a New Jersey trial court held that a commercial policyholder’s Superstorm Sandy claims were subject to a $22 million “named storm” deductible equal to 2% of the total insurable values at risk at all of the loss locations for which the insured made claim.  In Wakefern Food Corp., et al. v. Lexington Ins. Co., Case No. L-6483-13 (N.J.Super.Ct., Middlesex Cty., Oct. 29, 2014), the court held that damage had begun to occur hours before Sandy was downgraded and no longer constituted a “named storm” as defined and that that fact “created a substantial nexus between the storm and Wakefern’s total losses” justifying application of the deductible. Plaintiff Wakefern was a buying cooperative consisting of the owners of

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Posted in Deductible, Hurricane, Superstorm Sandy

Second Circuit Affirms a Southern District Decision Construing “Covered Location” Narrowly

In January, the Southern District rejected an insured’s $2 million claim for a generator destroyed by Superstorm Sandy.  The unit was in the basement of an office building in lower Manhattan, but the contract of insurance defined “covered location” to mean the 33rd floor of the structure.  The district court rejected the policyholder’s argument that language insuring personal property “in buildings or structures at a ‘covered location’ “ extended coverage to the entire building including its basement.  On October 16th, a panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed this carrier-friendly interpretation in Jane Street Holding, LLC v. Aspen American Ins. Co., — Fed.Appx. –, 2014 WL 5287051, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 19905 (2d. Cir., Oct. 16, 2014). Jane Street Holding,

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Posted in Flood, Insured Premises, Superstorm Sandy, Water

Pennsylvania Court Addresses What Is a Coverage Dispute for Appraisal Purposes

Last month, a Pennsylvania federal court rejected the notion that a dispute over whether an admittedly covered occurrence necessitated repair of certain discrete portions of the damaged structure was a coverage dispute, characterizing it instead as merely a dispute over the extent of loss.  As a result, Currie v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2014 WL 4081051, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117970 (E.D.Pa., Aug. 19, 2014) held that the insurer could not refuse appraisal and stated that it was being “disingenuous” in arguing otherwise. The Curries were the owners of a home in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.  When Superstorm Sandy struck on October 29, 2012, the structure took a direct hit from a tree on the property.  The insurer, State Farm

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Posted in Arbitration and Appraisal, Bad Faith, Homeowners Coverage, Loss Adjustment, Superstorm Sandy

New York Court: Storm Surge is a Species of Excluded Flood

One of the most litigated issues in the Gulf States in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was whether flood exclusions bar coverage for loss by storm surge.  The courts ultimately decided that the answer was yes.  The Superstorm Sandy jurisdictions have yet to address that question, but a recent federal case in New York suggests that the matter will ultimately be resolved in the same fashion in the Empire State.  The decision is New Sea Crest Healthcare Center, LLC, et al. v. Lexington Ins. Co., — F.Supp.2d —, 2014 WL 2879839 (E.D.N.Y., June 24, 2014). At present, the issue will not crop up nearly as frequently as it did in the wake of the 2005 storm because Katrina taught a

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Posted in Ambiguity, Flood, Superstorm Sandy
About The Property Insurance Law Observer
For more than four decades, Cozen O’Connor has represented all types of property insurers in jurisdictions throughout the United States, and it is dedicated to keeping its clients abreast of developments that impact the insurance industry. The Property Insurance Law Observer will survey court decisions, enacted or proposed legislation, and regulatory activities from all 50 states. We will also include commentary on current issues and developing trends of interest to first-party insurers.
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