Blog Archives

“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

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

Utah Court: Seepage Over A Months-Long Period Is Excluded As Moral Hazard

Two weeks ago in Wheeler v. Allstate Ins. Co., 2015 WL 5714392, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131736 (C.D.Utah, Sep. 29, 2015), a Utah court barred coverage for a mold loss caused when a vacant log cabin suffered a long-term water leak.  The policy excluded “seepage or leakage over a period of weeks, months or years,” and the judge held that that language embodied the concept that such a loss was a moral hazard – a preventable risk best assumed by the policyholder rather than by his or her homeowners insurer. The insured owned a seasonal cabin in Duck Creek that was not used during the winter months, and his practice was to leave both the water and the heat turned

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Posted in Ambiguity, Exclusions, Inherent Vice and Latent Defect, Mold, Moral Hazard, Seepage or Leakage, Water, Wear and Tear

Under Illinois Law, Mine Subsidence Held to Be a Type of Excluded Earth Movement

Ever since Mattis v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 118 Ill.App.3d 612, 73 Ill.Dec. 907, 454 N.E.2d 1156 (1983), Illinois courts have held that an earth movement exclusion contained in a first-party policy applies only to earth movement due to natural causes.  At the beginning of this month, however, a federal court in Missouri construing Illinois Law found otherwise with respect to mine subsidence.  In Hutchinson v. Pacific Indem. Co., 2015 WL 5139183, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112239 (E.D.Mo., Sep. 1, 2015), the court held that an earth movement exclusion was unambiguous and clearly barred coverage for such a loss. The policyholders owned a home in Alton, Illinois that was totally destroyed by “a mine subsidence event” on May

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Posted in Ambiguity, Earth Movement, Exclusions, Subsidence

Colorado Court Conducts a Clinic on Explosions

Earlier this month in Paros Properties v. Colorado Cas. Ins. Co., 2015 WL 5139293, U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116939 (D.Colo., Sep. 2, 2015), a federal court in Colorado addressed what constitutes an explosion.  After a mudslide knocked down part of its building, the insured contended that the structure had sustained a “violent breaking apart” and therefore an explosion, but the judge held otherwise.  In her opinion, the term “explosion” required that a force from within the object cause it to expand violently and burst apart in all directions. The insured owned a commercial building in Boulder, a city which experienced unprecedented rainfall in September of 2013.  On September 12th, “a violent flow of water, mud, rocks, trees, and other debris traveled

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Posted in Collapse, Exclusions, Explosion, Mudslide, Water

Eleventh Circuit: Inventory Computation Exclusion Bars Alabama Employee Theft Claim

In February, we reported on an Alabama federal court decision that barred an insured from recovering for employee theft where the only evidence of shortage was a comparison between computer records and a physical inventory conducted after the malefactor had been discharged.  On August 6th, a unanimous panel of the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in W.L. Petrey Wholesale Co. v. Great Amer. Ins. Co., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 13738, 2015 WL 4646599 (11th Cir., Aug. 6, 2015).  The judges held that the policy’s inventory computation exclusion was unambiguous and that inventory computation evidence was only admissible to prove the amount of loss after the existence of loss had been shown by other means. As we noted earlier this year, the insured

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Posted in Conditions, Exclusions, Theft or Dishonesty

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

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

Ninth Circuit: Under Arizona Law Mudslide Can Be Covered as the Direct Result of Fire

Last Friday, a unanimous panel of the Ninth Circuit held that loss from the excluded peril of mudslide occurring one month after a wildfire could be covered as the “direct” result of the blaze.  In Stankova v. Metropolitan Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 2015 WL 3429395, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 8935 (9th Cir., May 29, 2015),  it reached that result even though Arizona has not adopted the efficient proximate cause rule, saying that it did not need to apply that doctrine to determine that the mudslide “could have been directly and proximately caused by the wildfire.” It also blithely ignored anti-concurrent causation (ACC) language, which is given effect in Arizona, as “inconsistent with Arizona’s standard fire insurance policy, which insures

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Posted in Anti-Concurrent Causation, Causation, Direct Physical Loss or Damage, Efficient Proximate Cause, Exclusions, Flood, Mudslide, Wildfire
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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