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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

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

Vermont: There is No Cause of Action for Negligence in Adjusting a Property Loss

Last week, the Vermont Supreme Court firmly rejected the notion that an insured can bring a cognizable claim for negligence against his or her carrier in connection with the inspection and handling of a first-party property insurance claim.  In Helena G. Murphy v. Patriot Ins. Co., 2014 VT 96, 2014 WL 3965639, 2014 Vt. LEXIS 101 (Vt., Aug. 14, 2014), the court recognized that the relationship was “fundamentally contractual” in nature and that a policyholder’s rights flowed solely from the insurance policy and the covenant of good faith and fair dealing implied in that instrument. In July of 2007, the insured, Helena Murphy, reported damage to the roof of her house and interior water damage to her homeowner’s carrier, Patriot

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Posted in Homeowners Coverage, Investigation, Loss Adjustment, Mold, Water
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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