The Western District of Pennsylvania recently had to answer the question of whether a raccoon’s actions in destroying a property can be considered vandalism or malicious mischief under an insurance policy. The trial court found that “raccoons and their companions in the animal kingdom cannot formulate the intent needed to engage in vandalism, malicious mischief, or any other criminal or actionable conduct.”1
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In a recent case,1 a federal appeals court addressed the issue of whether fire damage to a vacant dwelling from an arsonist was considered distinct from vandalism, so as to not implicate an exclusion within a homeowners insurance policy. In that case, Wells Fargo Bank owned an insurance policy on an abandoned house that an arsonist set ablaze. The insured sued its insurer after the insurer refused to indemnify the insured for the loss, relying on a policy provision exclusion for damage caused by “vandalism or malicious mischief” after the property had been vacant for more than thirty consecutive days.
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The Appellate Court in New York recently reversed the trial court’s finding in favor of the insured which had concluded the vandalism exclusion did not apply to the loss.1 The insured owned certain real property which it was renovating and using as rental property. It was admitted the property had been vacant and unoccupied for six months before a fire substantially damaged it. The insureds filed a claim under their Landlords Package Policy, which was denied by Allstate.
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Going way back to the roots of insurance, fire was the peril that insurance was designed to protect. Fire damage and smoke are incredibly damaging and cause many injuries and fatalities. While our suppression efforts have a come a long way, there is still a long way for us to go with fire insurance claims being properly paid across the board.


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How many of you have been faced with a fire claim where the insurer denies coverage on the grounds that the fire was the result of vandalism and therefore the claim was excluded?

Well, a recent California Court of Appeal decision has held that insurers taking this position have to actually prove that the person who set the fire intended to destroy or otherwise damage the property in order for the exclusion to apply.


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As a child of the 80s, I remember all the television commercials constantly reminding me “reading is fundamental,” and my English teachers testing me to see if I understood how a word or phrase in one part of a book was important to another section of a book. Little did I know, those commercials and my English teachers were teaching me an important lesson about reading an insurance policy.

One of the first things we should do after a loss is carefully read the insurance policy for coverage. You not only want to just read the policy sections that pertain to losses and exclusions; but also read the definitions of the terms, see where else and how else a term may be used within the policy.
 


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Ever wonder what is in thieves and criminals minds when they are rummaging through stuff to either steal or destroy property? One recent Connecticut case, Mercedes Zee Corp. v. Seneca Insurance Company,1 involving the distinction between theft and vandalism would leave jurors to decipher the criminal mind and determine whether the motive of criminals was to act as thieves or vandals. The distinction is critical to coverage in many property insurance policies.


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