In Gutkowski v. Oklahoma Farmers Union Mutual Insurance Company,1 the insurance carrier (Farmers) found that the policyholder’s roof warranted a complete replacement due to hail damage. Farmers only agreed to pay for the “direct physical loss to the composition shingles,” though, and not the “decking to which the composition singles were attached.”2 Farmers argued that, pursuant to the applicable policy language, the decking surface did not sustain a direct physical loss as a result of the hail storm.

What do you think Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals ruled? Let’s discuss below.

POLICY LANGUAGE

The Insureds purchased a homeowner’s insurance policy from Farmers which insured against the following perils:

Coverage A-Residence and Coverage B-Related Private Structures

“We” Insure property covered under Coverages A and B for risks of direct physical loss, unless the loss is excluded under the exclusions applying to Coverages A and B or under the Exclusions That Apply to Property Coverages.

FARMERS’ POSITION

Citing to the policy language above, Farmers claimed that the policy terms “for risks of direct physical loss” limited its liability for the Insureds loss to only the composition shingles because the underlying decking did not suffer “direct physical loss” due to the hailstorm. While Farmers acknowledged that removing the damaged composition shingles would in turn render the decking unusable, Farmers continually maintained it was not liable to pay for decking replacement because the decking did not suffer direct physical loss.

COURT OF APPEALS HOLDINGS

Gutkowski remains a very interesting case for policyholders, particularly now that numerous lawsuits are being filed regarding recent tornadoes and hailstorms. In its opinion, the Gutkowski court held as follows:

  1. Oklahoma law requires an insurance carrier seeking to limit its liability under an insurance policy to employ language that clearly and distinctly reveals its stated purpose of limiting liability.3 Because the instant policy did not employ clear and distinct language limiting liability, the court rejected Farmers’ arguments.
  2. Farmers tried to show that the necessary components making up a single roof are divisible and separate. The court held that “a roof is a unified product comprised of all its component parts and materials, including felt, flashing, sheathing (decking), valleys, nails, caulk, drip edges, and shingles.4 Decking, therefore, remains an integral portion of the whole roof and was a covered loss under the policy.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME?

As I’ve reported in prior blog entries, we have heard numerous reports of Oklahoma policyholders receiving “complete roof replacement” findings from their insurance carrier, only to have the carrier then refuse to pay for certain components when the policyholder receives payment. If you faced this situation regarding a roof claim in Oklahoma, it might be a good idea to go back and read the insurance policy in addition to comparing the facts of your claim to the Gutkowski case.

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1 Gutkowski v. Oklahoma Farmers Union Mut. Ins. Co., 176 P.3d 1232 (Okla. App. 2007).
2 Id., at 1233.
3 Citing Spears v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Company, 2003 OK 66, section 7, 73 P.3d 865, 868 (Okla. 2003).
4 Citing Redcom v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2002 OK 15, section 15, 55 P.3d 1017, 1021 (Okla. 2002).