In continuing with the series on total loss, this week I direct my attention to Oklahoma, nicknamed “The Sooner State.” If you ever wondered what a Sooner is, Sooner was the name given to settlers who entered the state before the land was open to settlement. Sooners were able to stake their claims ahead of legal settlers by disregarding the official start of the land run.1 As we have seen before with quite a few other states, Oklahoma’s total loss roots are based in fire losses.
In 1912, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, in an action on a fire insurance policy, was faced with the task of determining if the plaintiff suffered a total loss.2 Instead of setting forth its own definition, the Court relied on decisions from courts in other states. The Court found the following reasoning persuasive:
[T]he words ‘total loss,’ when applied to a building, do not mean that the materials of which the building was composed were all totally destroyed and obliterated. It is not necessary that all of the parts and materials composing the building should be absolutely and physically destroyed; but the inquiry always is: Does the insured building, after the fire, still exist, preserving substantially its identity, or has it become so broken and disintegrated that it cannot be designated as the structure which was insured?3
The phrase ‘total loss,’ or its equivalent, ‘wholly destroyed,’…does not contemplate the entire annihilation or extinction of the property insured…it means only destruction of the property insured to such extent as to deprive it of the character in which it was insured.4
So, in Oklahoma, similar to many other jurisdictions, a total loss can be found even though parts of the building may remain standing after the peril. A building does not have to be totally destroyed, rather the key is whether the building loses its character or identity.
2 Springfield Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Homewood, 32 Okla, 531, 122 P. 196 (1912).
3 Palatine Ins. Co. v. Weiss, 109 Ky. 464, 59 S.W. 509 (1900).
4 Liverpool, London & Globe Ins. Co. v. Heckman, 64 Kan. 388, 67 Pac. 879 (1902).