While many homeowners primary focus in obtaining homeowners insurance is securing coverage to protect their real property, a homeowner should not overlook obtaining coverage for his or her valuables. This is especially true when a homeowner owns personal property which may be worth a higher monetary value, such as jewelry, artwork, or a valuable collection.
For example, guns may be covered under a standard homeowners policies for theft or damage. It’s not uncommon for a homeowner to maintain a collection of guns that surpasses an insurer’s coverage limits. This was the situation for a California homeowner, Mr. O’Dell. His homeowners policy contained a $5,000 limit on coverage for theft of firearms. When his home was burglarized, he lost numerous firearms from his collection (19 to be exact), including handguns and rifles, some of which had been manufactured before 1900. The 19 “antique” firearms were valued at over $170,000. Mr. O’Dell did not shoot these handguns, and owned them merely for investment purposes. He made a claim under his policy and his insurer paid him $5,000 pursuant to the policy’s limit. Mr. O’Dell disagreed that the policy limit applied.
O’Dell argued that the stolen firearms met the definition of “antique firearms,” as defined by the U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. § 921 et seq.,1 and therefore not subject to the policy limits for theft of firearms because he did not acquire or use them as firearms. When the insurer still refused to pay more than the policy limit, Mr. O’Dell filed a lawsuit against his insurer.
Ultimately, the California appellate court disagreed with Mr. O’Dell’s position: “Although O’Dell alleged in his complaint that his firearms were ‘antiques’ and ‘investments’ he never fired or intended to fire, the policy limited coverage for theft of ‘firearms’ without any condition as to their age, purpose, or use.”2
The court also recognized that the policy language limiting benefits due for loss by theft of firearms was clear and explicit, and the trial court correctly held that the language unambiguously applies to O’Dell’s theft loss claim.
If you have a valuable collection insured as part of your homeowners policy, take a moment and review the policy’s aggregate limit to make sure you are adequately insured in the event of a loss. Until next week….
1 The U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968 provides: The term “antique firearm” means — [¶] (A) any firearm (including any firearm with a matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system) manufactured in or before 1898; or [¶] (B) any replica of any firearm described in subparagraph (A) if such replica [¶] (i) is not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition, or [¶] (ii) uses rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition which is no longer manufactured in the United States and which is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade; or [¶] (C) any muzzle loading rifle, muzzle loading shotgun, or muzzle loading pistol, which is designed to use black powder, or a black powder substitute, and which cannot use fixed ammunition. For purposes of this subparagraph, the term “antique firearm” shall not include any weapon which incorporates a firearm frame or receiver, any firearm which is converted into a muzzle loading weapon, or any muzzle loading weapon which can be readily converted to fire fixed ammunition by replacing the barrel, bolt, breechblock, or any combination thereof. 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(16).
2 O’Dell v. California Capital Ins., No. A138500, at 8 (Cal. Ct.App. Oct. 1, 2014).