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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

Vermont Supreme Court Collapse Case Underscores Danger of Insuring Against the “Risk” of a Peril

Three months ago in Equinox on the Battenkill Mgmt. Ass’n. v. Philadelphia Indem. Ins. Co., 2015 VT 98 (Vt., Aug. 7, 2015), Vermont’s highest court held that a policy insuring against the “risks of . . . collapse” affords considerably broader coverage than one insuring against “direct loss [by] collapse.”  While the latter covers only a falling in, the former encompasses situations in which collapse is imminent and perhaps even situations in which “the insured building’s structural integrity has degraded to the point where it cannot be safely and reliably used.”  The case is a cautionary tale for underwriters everywhere, and it also contains a useful survey of “risk of collapse” jurisprudence from around the country. The policyholder was a

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Posted in Collapse, Direct Physical Loss or Damage, Faulty Workmanship or Design, Hidden Decay

California Court Holds Pre-Loss Preventative Measures To Avert A Collapse Are Not Covered as Mitigation.

Last week in Grebow v. Mercury Ins. Co., 2015 Cal. App. LEXIS 948, 2015 WL 6166610 (Cal.App., Oct. 26, 2015), a unanimous panel of California’s intermediate level appellate court rejected arguments that expenses incurred to prevent the collapse of a portion of the policyholders’ house were covered as mitigation.  The court held that the policy provision requiring an insured to protect the property from further damage was not analogous to a sue and labor provision and did not apply until after a loss that already occurred because to hold otherwise would effectively convert the contract of insurance into a maintenance agreement. The insureds owned a house in Tarzana.  In early 2013, concerned over recurring watermarks, they had a general contractor

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Posted in Ambiguity, Collapse, Corrosion, Hidden Decay, Homeowners Coverage, Preservation and Protection, Sue and Labor

Sixth Circuit: A Michigan Collapse Extension Overrides Exclusions for Cracking and Defective Design

In Joy Tabernacle — The New Testament Church v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2015 WL 3824733, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 10707 (6th Cir., Jun. 22, 2015), a unanimous panel of the federal Court of Appeals recently held that a collapse extension of coverage negates a policy’s exclusions for cracking and faulty workmanship and design because more specific provisions of a contract of insurance are controlling over general ones.  The court noted that any collapse necessarily entails “the cracking of beams and walls” and that giving effect to the exclusion under those circumstances would render the extension nugatory.  In addition, the defective design exclusion was ineffective because the collapse extension specifically recited that collapse caused at least in part

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Posted in Collapse, Exclusions, Faulty Workmanship or Design, Hidden Decay, Settling or Cracking

Washington Supreme Court Misses Opportunity to Clarify the Meaning Of “Collapse”

Washington State has long been a jurisdiction with no judicial pronouncement as to the meaning of the term “collapse” in a property insurance policy, but that changed last Thursday when the state’s Supreme Court issued its decision in Queen Anne Park Homeowners Ass’n v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2015 WL 3795796, 2015 Wash. LEXIS 695 (Wash., Jun. 18, 2015).  The court found that the term, as used in the insurance policy before it, was ambiguous.  It then adopted a definition of “collapse,” but its use of uncertain terms in that definition may only lead to further ambiguity, and the likely result will be yet more expensive litigation concerning older policies that contain similar “collapse” language. The Queen Anne

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Posted in Ambiguity, Collapse, Hidden Decay
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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