Last week, I wrote about whether a tarp constitutes a part of the structure during repairs. In response, Jeff Petrucci of Bloomfield Construction, posted a very interesting question which lead to this week’s topic: Whether roof damage caused by a raccoon is covered under an insurance policy.

Many policyholders are surprised to find out a raccoon is living or nesting in their attic or roof. They usually learn of their unwanted tenants only after the creatures have damaged their home.

This type of damage is far too common and is a gateway to even more damage, including ensuing water and wind damage. Policyholders should make sure their policies cover this type of loss.

Insurance companies consistently use Vermin Exclusions when denying these types of claims. Fortunately for policyholders, many policies fail to define the term “vermin.”

Vermin is defined in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary as:

  1. any of a number of small animals with filthy, destructive, troublesome habits as flies, lice, bedbugs, mice, rats, and weasels;
  2. any bird or animal that kills game;
  3. (a) a person who is vile, worthless, or objectionable; (b) such persons collectively.

Because the term “vermin” is not more specifically defined in many policies, an insured is entitled to the most favorable definition of the term.

In Marks v. Trinity Universal Ins. Co., 531 So.2d 516, 517 (La. Ct. App. 1988), the trial court concluded the term “vermin” in the policy’s Vermin Exclusion was ambiguous. The court relied on a factually similar Texas case where the damage was caused by a squirrel. Jones v. American Economy Ins. Co., 672 S.W.2d 879 (Tex.App. 5 Dist.1984). The Texas court concluded the term vermin is susceptible of more than one interpretation and is ambiguous. Having made this determination, the Texas court then construed the exclusion in favor of the insured and held “vermin” does not include a squirrel under the terms of the policy. The trial court in Marks expressly adopted the rationale of the Texas court and concluded a raccoon is not a vermin under the policy exclusion.

The American Association of Insurance Services (AAIS) drafts policy language for insurance companies to write into their policies. The AAIS responded to findings of ambiguity in the Vermin Exclusion and, in 2007, amended its Vermin Exclusion by specifically defining the term “vermin” to mean “an animal of a type that is prone to enter or burrow into or under a structure to seek food or shelter, including raccoons.”

AAIS’s response is detrimental to policyholders. If you are not aware of which Vermin Exclusion is contained in your policy, you need to find out. Adding this type of coverage is inexpensive compared to the major perils of wind and water.

UPDATE: Thanks to Neil Hall for pointing out the Allstate ad: