Blog Archives

Kentucky Court: Depreciating Labor to Get Actual Cash Value Is Like Making the Insured Use a Very Old Roofer With Debilitating Arthritis to Repair the Roof

Surprisingly few states have addressed the question of whether an insurer can depreciate labor – as opposed to materials – to arrive at actual cash value (ACV).  Two weeks ago in Bailey v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2015 WL 1401640, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37568 (E.D.Ky., Mar. 25, 2015), a federal court in Kentucky held that it was impermissible to do so, quoting an Oklahoma opinion that analogized such a step to requiring the policyholder to use “a very old roofer with debilitating arthritis who can barely climb a ladder or hammer a nail” to effect repairs to a roof. The case was a proposed class action by a West Liberty, Kentucky dentist whose office was damaged by

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Posted in Actual Cash Value, Depreciation, Fire, Replacement Cost, Tornado

Squatter’s Warming Fire in Vacant Home Held Not to be Vandalism by Divided California Court

In February, we published a Post about a Florida decision that aligned that state with the clear majority of American courts that have held that the destruction of property by an intentionally set fire is encompassed within the terms “vandalism and malicious mischief.”  Last Friday, in Hung Van Ong v. Fire Ins. Exch., 2015 WL 1524464, 2015 Cal. App. LEXIS 290 (Cal.Ct.App., Apr. 3, 2015), two of the three justices on a California intermediate level appellate court panel rejected that approach, reversing a grant of summary judgment in favor of the insurer in a case in which a vacant dwelling had been damaged when a transient set a fire on the kitchen floor to warm himself because they concluded that

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Posted in Arson, Exclusions, Fire, Vacant or Unoccupied, Vandalism

Sixth Circuit: Growing Marijuana is Not the Same as Buying a Houseplant or Entertaining Visitors

Half of the states in this country have now legalized marijuana for medical use, and that has led to a number of small-scale growing operations in policyholders’ homes.  While not nearly as dangerous as cooking meth on the kitchen stove, such activities can nonetheless pose unacceptable risks of loss.  On Tuesday in Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. McDermott, 2015 WL 756206, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 3012 (6th Cir., Feb. 24, 2015), a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals roundly rejected policyholder arguments that starting up such an operation did not represent a change in use or occupancy that the insured was required to bring to the insurer’s attention. In 2005, Kasey McDermott purchased a home in Bay City, Michigan

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Posted in Co-Insureds, Fire, Increase in Hazard

Florida Court Holds Arson is a Type of Excluded Vandalism and Malicious Mischief

Earlier this month a unanimous Florida appellate court joined a number of other states that have held that an all-risk policy exclusion for vandalism and malicious mischief operates to bar coverage for an arson loss.  The opinion can be found at Botee v. Southern Fid. Ins. Co., 2015 WL 477836, 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 1566 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App., Feb. 6, 2015). The insured, Raziya Botee, owned a single-family home that was destroyed by an arsonist on October 10, 2012.  It was undisputed that the structure had been vacant for over a month when the fire broke out.  Her homeowner’s insurer, Southern Fidelity (SFIC), denied liability because the contract of insurance excluded coverage for losses caused by “vandalism and malicious mischief, theft or

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Posted in All Risk, Ambiguity, Arson, Exclusions, Fire, Vacancy and Unoccupancy, Vandalism

Fourth Circuit: Twenty-Seven Days of Inaction Enough to Waive Right to Rescind for Violations of Protective Safeguards Clause

The marriage liturgy in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer contains the well-known line “speak now or forever hold your peace,” and the take-away from a recent Fourth Circuit decision out of North Carolina is clearly “act now or forever lose your rights.”  In Colony Ins. Co. v. Peterson, — Fed.Appx. —, 2014 WL 4179962, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 16320 (4th Cir., Aug. 25, 2014), a divided panel of the Court of Appeals held that an insurer had to pay a $2.5 million fire loss even though the policyholders had made material misrepresentations in their application and violated a protective safeguards endorsement.  The carrier was deemed to have waived its right to rescind and to be estopped from denying coverage

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Posted in Arson, Arson and Fraud, Fire, Inspection, Protective Safeguards, Rescission, Waiver

Texas Limits Scope of Anti-Technicality Statute and Material Breach Doctrine in Vacancy Clause Case

Last week, the Texas Supreme Court handed down an opinion that involved two unique (and somewhat troublesome) creatures of state law – the so-called “anti-technicality” statute and the material breach doctrine – and in Greene v. Farmer’s Ins. Exc., 2014 WL 4252271, 2014 Tex. LEXIS 758 (Tex., Aug. 29, 2014), it effectively limited the scope of both.  The court thereby gave effect to a provision in a homeowners policy that suspended coverage if a dwelling was allowed to remain vacant for more than sixty days. The case arose after Lewayne Greene moved into a retirement community, vacating her home in Irving, Texas and placing the structure on the market.  She notified her insurer of the move, but she did not

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Posted in Causation, Fire, Prejudice, Vacant or Unoccupied

South Carolina: Admission of Cause & Origin Testimony by Fire Chief Was Prejudicial Error

In James D. Fowler v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 2014 WL 3844215, 2014 S.C. App. LEXIS 209 (S.C. App., Aug. 6, 2014), South Carolina’s Court of Appeals recently held that it was prejudicial error to allow the jury to consider either the report of a volunteer fire chief or his testimony on the issue of cause and origin if he does not qualify as an expert.  The take away is that if a firefighter can’t testify as an expert, any opinion he or she has on causation is simply not a datum that the fact-finder is entitled to know about. The insured’s home was destroyed by fire in January of 2007.  His homeowner’s carrier, Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company,

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Posted in Arson, Arson and Fraud, Experts, Fire, Investigation

Florida Insurer Waives Two-Year Requirement by Waiting That Long to First Raise It

In Axis Surplus Ins. Co. v. Caribbean Beach Club Assn., 2014 WL 2900930 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App., June 27, 2014), a Florida court recently held that the insurer could not rely on a policy requirement that conditioned recovery of the cost of complying with current building codes during reconstruction on having completed the work within two years of the loss.  The insurer waived the two-year requirement by failing to raise it until the entire two years had elapsed and choosing to spend that time cooperating with the policyholder’s efforts to determine the necessary scope of repair instead. The insured, Caribbean Beach Club Association, owned a time-share condominium building in Fort Myers that was heavily damaged by fire in April 2003.  It had property

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Posted in Fire, Ordinance or Law, Waiver

Sixth Circuit Holds That Declines in Market Value are Not a Factor in Determining Actual Cash Value

In a case of first impression in Michigan, the federal Court of Appeals determined last month that general market conditions could not be considered when calculating actual cash value.  In Whitehouse Condominium Group, LLC v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., — Fed.Appx. —, 2014 WL 2743480 (6th Cir., June 17, 2014), the contract of insurance defined ACV as replacement cost less a number of factors including “obsolescence .”  The Sixth Circuit held that the word connoted only functional obsolescence as opposed to both functional and economic obsolescence. The policyholder owned a condominium building in Flint, Michigan that was heavily damaged by fire in November of 2010.  The policy afforded coverage for ACV, which was defined in the contract of insurance to mean

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Posted in Actual Cash Value, Depreciation, Fire, Loss Adjustment

Waiver of Attorney-Client and Work-Product – You Can’t Be Just a Little Bit Pregnant

A recent Mississippi opinion dramatically underscores the dangers of an advice-of-counsel defense.  In Willis v. Allstate Ins. Co., — F.Supp.2d —, 2014 WL 1882387 (S.D.Miss., May 12, 2014), the court held that the insurer had waived both the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine with respect to coverage counsel’s entire file – and not just that portion of it that the carrier was willing to produce – when its representatives testified that they relied on the attorney’s advice to deny liability.  As the saying goes, in for a penny, in for a pound. The policyholder Sandra Willis’ home was damaged by a fire on June 14, 2012, and she made a claim under her homeowner’s policy with Allstate Insurance Company. 

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Posted in Fire, Privilege, U.S. Legal System, Waiver
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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