In a recent appellate decision out of the Court of Appeals of Texas in Beaumont, the appellate court affirmed a jury verdict for the Defendant insurance company.1 The case centered on damage from Hurricane Ike that resulted from water entering the home from separations between a door and its frame, specifically, the wind from the storm effectively removed the weather stripping around the insureds’ French doors.
The insurance policy at issue included an exclusion that read in part:
c. We do not cover loss caused by windstorm, hurricane or hail to:
(4) the interior of a covered building or to personal property contained in a covered building unless direct force of wind or hail makes an opening in a roof or wall and rain enters this opening and causes the damage.
Both parties filed motions with the trial court arguing that a ruling on the exclusion was a matter of law. RVOS Farm Mutual argued that the exclusion applied as the only opening Plaintiffs complained of was not one in a roof or wall. Insureds argued that words of the exception cover a situation in which wind creates a separation between a door and is frame or threshold, between two doors, and between a window and its frame.
The trial court ultimately ruled that the contract exclusion was not ambiguous, there was no conflict in the law, and that any conflict in evidence would be for the jury to decide. The trial court further explained that a jury may decide a hurricane force wind blowing through the weather stripping crated a hole or gap in the wall.
The trial court submitted the following question to the jury:
Did R.V.O.S. Farm Mutual Insurance Company (“RVOS”) fail to comply with the insurance policy with respect to James C. Iler and Linda Iler’s claim arising from Hurricane Ike? You are instructed the policy does not cover losses caused by windstorm, hurricane or hail to the inside of a building or personal property contained in a building unless direct force of wind or hail makes an opening in the roof or wall and rain or snow enters through this opening and causes the damage.
The court pointed out that the trial court instruction did not provide any specific definitions for words in the exclusion, and it instructed the jury to give the words their ordinary meaning. The trial court couched jury question one in terms of the policy and did not ask the jury to construe the parties’ obligations under the policy. The court affirmed the trial court’s judgment and held that the submission of a jury question is not error where the wording of the question does nothing more than present a question to the jurors based upon the facts.
So, we don’t know the answer when it comes to a door being a part of a wall, but we know it is up to the jury.
1 Iler v. RVOS Farm Mutual Ins. Co., No. 09-16-00011-CV (Tex App.—Beaumont Nov. 16, 2017).