Standard Fire Insurance Policy

An Illinois Public Insurance Adjuster recently contacted me regarding an insurer’s denial of a smoke damage claim. The facts were as follows. While a condominium unit owner was using the fireplace in the unit (“unit 1”), smoke began to fill up in the condominium unit above (“unit 2”). The condominium association made a claim to its property insurer for the smoke damage to unit 2. Concluding that the fireplace flu in unit 1 was improperly installed, the insurer denied the association’s claim, asserting exclusions for damage caused by or resulting from (1) faulty workmanship (“the faulty workmanship exclusion”) and (2) the discharge or release of pollutants (“the pollution exclusion”).
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Most policyholders usually do not know what to expect when they submit a claim to their insurance company. Some simply expect to fill out a claim form, maybe answer a few questions, and then receive a claim check from the insurer compensating them for the loss. Most policyholders are usually taken back when the insurance company asks for copies of their income tax returns, bank statements, bills, and other financial records.
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Florence battered the Carolina Coast with 90mph winds when it made landfall near Wilmington, North Carolina on September 14, 2018. Florence downgraded to a tropical storm Friday evening and is now crawling across South Carolina at a drastically slow rate of approximately 5mph. The Carolinas are now facing the devastating effects of catastrophic storm surge, flash flooding, and prolonged river flooding. Some parts of North Carolina are already inundated with over thirty inches of rain.
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Last November in my blogpost, Does the Standard Fire Policy Vacancy/Unoccupancy Condition Apply to a Fire Loss Occurring within Sixty Days of the Inception of Coverage, I discussed how courts have measured vacancy/unoccupancy when a loss occurs within sixty days of the inception of coverage; but, the insured property had been vacant or unoccupied for more than sixty days prior to the effective date of coverage.
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I have handled many fire losses over the years involving vacant and/or unoccupied property.1 In some losses, the fire occurred within 60 days of the inception of coverage; but, the insured property had been vacant or unoccupied for more than 60 days prior to the effective date of coverage. Invariably, the insurers in those fire losses denied the claim, taking the position that vacancy/unoccupancy2 is measured from the inception of the vacancy/unoccupancy as opposed to the inception of coverage.
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I wrote about Streit v. Metropolitan Casualty Insurance Company1 in a recent blogpost. In Streit, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that an insurance policy “intentional loss” exclusion which precluded innocent co-insureds from recovering for a fire loss was unenforceable because it violated the minimum level of protection afforded by the Illinois Standard Fire Policy.
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As discussed in my blog post last week, the 1943 New York Standard Fire Policy (“the Standard Fire Policy”), or a statutory version differing from it only slightly, is used in many states. The Standard Fire Policy potentially affords insureds more fire coverage than they may otherwise have, given the limited number of provisions which condition, suspend, limit, restrict, or exclude coverage. The Standard Fire Policy does not condition fire insurance on the insured maintaining fire-related protective devices or services, such as an automatic sprinkler system, an automatic fire alarm, and/or smoke detectors. Nor does the Standard Fire Policy exclude coverage for a fire loss if the insured failed to maintain any applicable protective device or service in complete working order.
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The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal’s opinion this week in Streit v. Metropolitan Casualty Insurance Company,1 is a major victory for policyholders in Illinois. There, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court judgment entered in favor of my clients, Wesley and Barbara Streit, arising out of Metropolitan’s failure to cover a fire loss to their residence in Illinois. The Seventh Circuit’s ruling establishes that an insurance policy exclusion which precludes innocent co-insureds from recovering violates the minimum level of protection afforded by the Illinois Standard Fire Policy.
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