In February, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal issued an important decision for property owners whose homes are damaged due to prolonged water intrusion. The case arose out of a refrigerator supply line leak that occurred while the homeowner was out of town.
As summarized by the Fifth District Court of Appeal:
“Hicks [the insured homeowner] purchased an ‘all risks’ policy from [American Integrity Insurance Company of Florida (AIIC)], which covered his home. . . . In September 2012, while Hicks was out of town, the water supply line to his refrigerator began leaking, slowly at first, then steadily increasing, until, by the time Hicks returned home on October 25, the supply line was discharging almost one thousand gallons each day. Hicks filed a claim with AIIC, but after AAIC’s expert determined that the pipe had been leaking for five weeks or more, AAIC denied the claim, quoting the following provision of the policy: ‘We do not insure . . . for loss . . . [c]aused by . . . [c]onstant or repeated seepage or leakage of water . . . over a period of 14 or more days.’”
14-Day Exclusion Does Not Apply to First 13 Days of Damage
After the insurance company denied the homeowner’s claim, the homeowner sued for breach of contract. The insurance company, AIIC, sought to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the 14-day loss provision in the homeowner’s policy excluded coverage for all damage sustained as a result of the supply line leak. The homeowner, Hicks, countered that he was entitled to coverage for losses sustained during the first 13 days of the leak, which his forensic general contractor estimated at nearly $41,000.
While the trial court sided with AIIC, on appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Hicks. As stated by the court, “[A]n insurance policy excluding losses caused by constant or repeated leakage or seepage over a period of fourteen days or more does not unambiguously excluded losses caused . . . over a period of thirteen days or less. . . . And ambiguous insurance provisions . . . must be construed against the insurer and in favor of coverage.” The court also noted that when an insured purchases an “all risks” policy, the insurance company must affirmatively prove that a loss is excluded in order to justifiably deny coverage.
Homeowner Entitled to 13 Days’ Coverage, Insurance Company Must Prove that Losses Occurred Beyond Thirteenth Day
Based on this reasoning, the Fifth District Court of Appeal determined that Hicks was entitled to coverage for losses sustained during the first 13 days of the leak. It also ruled that, “the burden will be on AIIC to prove that a particular loss was sustained after the thirteenth day,” in order to partially deny coverage. This was an important win for the homeowner, and one that should be instructive for other homeowners who suffer significant damage due to prolonged water intrusion.
Saavedra | Goodwin, a Fort Lauderdale Insurance Claim Law Firm
If you are struggling to obtain coverage from your homeowner’s insurance company, our attorneys can help. We have decades of experience representing insured individuals and businesses in disputes with their insurers. To get started with a confidential initial consultation, please call (954) 767-6333 or request an appointment online today.