My most recent post was inspired by contact from an attorney in Seattle, Washington. This week, continuing with the “Total Loss” series, I decided to stay in Washington. The state is appropriately nicknamed the “Evergreen State.” If you ever visit, you will see how green it really is. If you like trees and forests, Washington is your kind of state.
As we have seen in many other states, much of the total loss discussion in Washington involves fire losses. One of the earliest cases to address the issue was Grandview Inland Fruit Company v. Hartford Fire Insurance Company.1 In Grandview, a warehouse building was destroyed by fire:
As a result of the fire, nothing remained of the building above ground. The wooden floor of the basement was destroyed by the fire. The basement was filled with a large amount of debris. Most of the concrete walls of the basement fell into the basement as the result of the fire or were weakened and bulged inward. All that remained after the fire were a part of the foundation and the cellar.
The insurance company contended the building was not a total loss because of 60 percent of the foundation could be used, so the building still had a some value. The Washington Supreme Court rejected this argument, holding the evidence was cleat that the building was totally destroyed: the “structure has lost its specific character and ceased to exist as a building.” The Court ultimately adopted the following rule as to what constitutes a total loss:
[T]here is a total loss if the building is so far destroyed that no substantial part of portion of it remains in place capable of being utilized to advantage in restoring the building to the condition in which it was before the fire.
So, in Washington, the “identity test” is used. If a building loses its identity and specific character, although some materials or component parts remain, it is still considered a total loss.