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Texas Reforms Insurance Litigation – Section 542A of the Texas Insurance Code 60 Days to Get Your House in Order

Texas has finally enacted statutory reforms specifically designed to combat abusive insurance litigation. Enacted primarily in response to hailstorm lawsuits, the scope of the reforms are much broader. Effective September 1, 2017, Section 542A of the Texas Insurance Code governs all lawsuits arising out of insurance claims where the damage was caused, either directly or indirectly, by the weather or other “forces of nature.” Importantly, Section 542A finally affords insurers the opportunity to amicably resolve disputed claims without protracted litigation. However, insurers need to be prepared to make quick strategic decisions to take advantage of the law’s protections. The practical effect of Section 542A is to give insurers 60 days to “get their house in order” and make decisions that

Posted in Arbitration and Appraisal, Bad Faith, Hailstorm, Investigation, Loss Adjustment

“Context Matters” – Tenth Circuit Holds Mudslide Not an Explosion Under Property Policy

On August 29, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed a Colorado district court ruling that the sudden obliteration of a building in a 2013 mudslide did not constitute an “explosion” under a commercial property policy. Accordingly, coverage for the loss was barred under the policy’s “Water Exclusion Endorsement,” which excluded coverage for, among other perils, “[m]udslide or mudflow.” Although the exclusion contained an exception for resulting losses caused by “fire explosion, or sprinkler leakage,” the Tenth Circuit held that the destruction of the building did not constitute an explosion as used in the exception to the exclusion. In construing the meaning of “explosion” as used in the water exclusion, the court emphasized that “context matters,”

Posted in Coverage, Exclusions, Mudslide, Water

Summary Judgment May Be Appropriate When Insured Fails to Take Reasonable Measures to Prevent Property Damage

Many first party property insurance policies exclude claims for water damage that occurs when the insured premises is left vacant or unoccupied, unless the insured has used reasonable care to prevent such losses. In litigation challenging the denial of such claims, whether or not the insured’s actions in preventing property damage were reasonable is generally treated as a question of fact to be decided by a jury. However, when the facts are not disputed, and there are no credibility issues presented, a court may grant summary judgment on behalf of the insurer upholding the denial. Such a result recently occurred in a Pennsylvania case involving substantial losses as a result of water damage from burst pipes. Micalis Pazianas, M.D., et

Posted in Freezing, Homeowners Coverage, Vacant or Unoccupied, Water, Water

Workmanship and Earth Movement Exclusions Preclude Coverage for Collapse As a Matter of Law

A U.S. federal district court recently granted Peerless Insurance’s summary judgment motion, concluding that, as a matter of law, under Virginia law, a property policy insuring a building under renovation would not provide coverage for a collapsed basement wall due to a subcontractor’s lack of shoring,. Taja Investments LLC v. Peerless Ins. Co. a/k/a Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., Civ. No. 1:15-cv-01647, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95760 (E. D. VA, July 21, 2016). The plaintiff insured, Taja Investments, was a construction company, which was excavating a 4-5 foot crawlspace under a building to create a space with a 9 foot depth in order to allow for additional living areas. The insured’s claim arose out of the collapse of one of the basement

Posted in Coverage, Earth Movement, Exclusions, Faulty Workmanship or Design

Is a Rock a Landslide? Montana Supreme Court Says Yes

In a recent decision, the Montana Supreme Court upheld application of an Earth Movement exclusion to bar coverage for damage to a home when a single large boulder rolled down a hill and smashed into it. In doing so, the court gave the words of the exclusion their plain and ordinary meaning, refusing to give them a strained interpretation in order to find an ambiguity. Russell Parker owned a vacation home near Sheridan, Montana. In March 2014, a large boulder fell from a hillside about 440 feet uphill from the cabin and smashed into the structure. Parker had insurance with Safeco and he submitted a claim. Safeco hired an engineer who traced the path of the boulder back to its

Posted in Coverage, Earth Movement, Exclusions

More Common Sense: Coverage for Collapse Requires More Than an Engineer’s Finding of Substantial Impairment

In February this blog commented on Washington State’s newly-adopted definition of “collapse” in property insurance policies that contain no specific definition of the term. (Observer, February 8, 2016, Common Sense Prevails:  State of Collapse Nonexistent Thirteen Years before Discovery of Decay)  At issue was the building owner’s attempt to tap its property policy’s coverage for collapse when hidden decay, although severe, did not result in the building falling down. Under Washington’s new definition, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found no collapse of a condominium building that remained in use and occupied seventeen years after the insurance policy expired and severe decay allegedly developed. Queen Anne Park Homeowner’s Ass’n v. State Farm, 633 F. Appx. 415 (9th Cir. 2016). On

Posted in Collapse, Hidden Decay

Wisconsin Supreme Court Narrowly Interprets the “Permanent Property Insurance” Condition in a Builder’s Risk Policy

In Fontana Builders, Inc. v. Assurance Company of America, Case No. 2014AP821, 2016 WL 3526408 (Wis. Jun. 29, 2016), the Wisconsin Supreme Court addressed whether the purchase of a homeowner’s policy by the occupiers and presumptive purchasers of a home that was still under construction terminated coverage under a builder’s risk policy issued to the builder and owner of the home. The builder’s risk policy contained a provision that the coverage will end “[w]hen permanent property insurance applies,” which the court referred to as the “permanent property insurance” condition. In a split decision, the court held that the homeowner’s policy did not “apply” so as to terminate coverage under the builder’s risk policy. The case arose out of a June

Posted in Coverage, Fire

Do Fidelity Policies Issued to Individual Partners Provide Coverage for Theft of Partnership Earnings?

The Eighth Circuit is set to decide this question in 3M Company, et al. v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa., et al., Appeal No. 15-3495. The answer will likely determine whether a blanket crime policy and multiple excess policies cover $176 million in partnership earnings 3M lost because of its partners’ massive Ponzi scheme. Between 1999 and 2009, 3M invested over $100 million of its Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) plan assets and the earnings on those investments with an entity named WG Trading Company, L.P. Stephen Walsh and Paul Greenwood controlled WG Trading and were its general partners. 3M and two of its ERISA plans were limited partners in WG Trading. Unbeknownst to 3M, Walsh

Posted in Theft or Dishonesty

Vermont: First-Party Pollution Exclusions Are Not Confined to Traditional Environmental Pollution.

Courts in a number of American states, notably California, have found that pollution exclusions in first-party policies are “inherently ambiguous” and that the purpose of such provisions is “to address liability arising from traditional environmental pollution, and not ‘ordinary acts of negligence involving harmful substances.’ ” On December 11th, the Vermont Supreme Court unanimously refused to follow that line of jurisprudence in Whitney v. Vermont Mut. Ins. Co., 2015 VT 140, 2015 Vt. LEXIS 120, 2015 WL 8540432 (Vt., Dec. 11, 2015), holding instead that a standard form pollution exclusion was unambiguous in nature and clearly operated to bar coverage after the spraying of a pesticide chased the policyholders out of their home. The insureds had a house in Rutland,

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Posted in Ambiguity, Contamination, Pollution

Can You Burn the House Down and Still Recover From Your Homeowners Insurer? An Illinois Judge Says Yes!

Someday the editors of this blog will have to create a “Hall of Shame” for most witheringly wrong-headed pieces of first-party property insurance jurisprudence, and a clear contender is a federal decision out of Illinois that came down early last month.  In Streit v. Metropolitan Cas. Ins. Co., 2015 WL 6736677, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 149904 (N.D.Ill., Nov. 4, 2015), the court determined that there was coverage for a fire set by one of the insureds because the intentional acts exclusion in the contract of insurance was void.  The state’s Standard Fire Policy did not exclude intentional acts, and the judge held that that meant that fires caused by intentional conduct, “including arson, . . . must be covered.” The

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Posted in Arson, Arson and Fraud, Fire, Fortuity, Homeowners Coverage
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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