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Minnesota Harmonizes the Mortgage Clause and the Vacancy Clause

Two days ago, Minnesota’s highest court unanimously held that a mortgagee’s recovery for vandalism damage to a vacant building is only barred by the vacancy clause if the insured’s acts caused the vacancy.  The decision is  Commerce Bank v. West Bend Mut. Ins. Co., 2015 WL 6498468, 2015 Minn. App. LEXIS 85 (Minn., Oct. 28, 2015)   If breached, the vacancy clause still automatically operates to void coverage for the insured, but it does not necessarily do the same for the mortgagee, and the determination entails addressing a question of fact. The policyholder had a building in Burnsville that had been vacant for four months when the mortgagee/bank was added to the contract of insurance.  Seven months later, while still vacant,

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Posted in Mortgagees, Vacancy and Unoccupancy, Vandalism

Tennessee Court Weighs in on Whether Arson is a Species of Vandalism and Malicious Mischief

Last month in what was a case of first impression in Tennessee, a unanimous panel of the state’s intermediate level appellate court joined those jurisdictions that have concluded that arson does not constitute a type of vandalism and malicious mischief.  As is typically the case, the issue arose after a fire destroyed a vacant building and the carrier denied liability because the policy excluded loss by vandalism and malicious mischief during vacancy.  Southern Trust Ins. Co. v. Phillips, 2015 WL 3612989, 2015 Tenn. App. LEXIS 457 (Tenn.Ct.App., Jun. 10, 2015) contains a helpful canvas of state law on both sides of the question, but the holding itself is obviously far less useful for insurers. The insured owned a home in

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

Oklahoma Court Holds the Policyholder Can Also Be the Vandal

Earlier this week an Oklahoma federal court addressed a mortgagee’s claim for vandalism loss – a topic we also discussed in Wednesday’s post.  In American Modern Home Ins. Co. v. Tulsa Fed. Credit Union, 2015 WL 2372549, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64491 (E.D.Okla., May 18, 2015), the court rejected an insurer’s argument that because the vandalism was done by the insured, it could not constitute the covered peril of “vandalism” in a situation in which the policy neglected to define that term. The insured owned a house and secured a homeowners policy that also extended coverage to his mortgagee.  The mortgage company instituted foreclosure proceedings and the policyholder vacated the dwelling, but only after removing fixtures and damaging property to

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Posted in Ambiguity, Homeowners Coverage, Loss Payees, Mortgagees, Theft or Dishonesty, Vandalism

Illinois Court Holds Vacancy Clause Does Not Bar Vandalism and Theft Claim by Mortgagee

In a case of first impression in Illinois, a unanimous panel of the state’s Appellate Court recently addressed the interplay between a vacancy clause and a mortgagee provision and held that the insured’s failure to comply with the former did not preclude recovery by the mortgage company after vandals did over $2 million in damage.  In Old Second Nat’l Bank v. Indiana Ins. Co., 2015 IL App. (1st) 140265, — N.E.3d –, 2015 WL 1283867, 2015 Ill. App. LEXIS 185 (Mar. 20, 2015), it held that the vacancy clause was a condition subsequent to coverage and that its violation therefore only operated to bar the policyholder’s claim even though the structure – unbeknownst to the insurer — had been vacant

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Posted in Conditions, Loss Payees, Mortgagees, Theft or Dishonesty, Vacant or Unoccupied, Vandalism

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

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
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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