So far in our series of posts on total loss standards across the nation we have covered 20 states — mostly in the East and the South. I will be continuing the series through the remainder of the states. For now, what a better place to start than California — the most populous state in the country and my home state.

As we have seen in many of the other states, California’s definition finds its roots in fire loss and fire insurance. The only California case I found that addresses the definition of total loss in any significant detail is Williams v. Hartford Insurance Company.1 In Williams, the California Supreme Court reviewed the trial court’s handling of jury instructions as to whether a total or only a partial loss resulted from a fire. In agreement with the trial court, it adopted the following definition:

A total loss does not mean an absolute extinction. The question is not whether all the parts and materials composing the building are absolutely or physically destroyed, but whether after the fire, the thing insured still exists as a building. Although you may find the fact that after the fire a large portion of the four walls are left standing, and some of the iron-work still attached thereto, still if you find that the fact that the building has lost its identity and specific character as a building, you may find that the property was totally destroyed within the meaning of the policy.

So, in California, a building suffers a total loss if it has lost its utility. Certain parts of the building can be left standing. The building does not have to be completed destroyed for there to be a total loss.

To read previous posts on what constitutes a total loss, click here.

1 Williams v. Hartford Ins. Co. (1880) 54 Cal. 442.