Federal District Court Weighs in on Whether Labor Can Be Depreciated in Arriving at an Actual Cash Value Loss Settlement

Edward Eshoo | Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog | December 7, 2018

Whether labor can be depreciated in arriving at an actual cash value property loss settlement has been a hot topic of debate over these past five years. A federal district court in Ohio recently weighed in on the issue in ruling on motions to dismiss two putative class action lawsuits, one against State Farm Fire & Casualty Company1 and one against Allstate Indemnity Company.2

The insureds in both cases challenged whether labor could be depreciated in arriving at an actual cash value settlement. In concluding that it was proper to do so, resulting in the dismissal of the lawsuits, the district court reasoned that the term “actual cash value,” which was undefined in the State Farm and Allstate policies, meant replacement cost less depreciation and that the plain and ordinary meaning of the term “depreciation” was inclusive of labor. The district court also found persuasive those decisions from other courts that had likewise found that labor should be included in depreciation.3

The results reached in Perry and Cranfield are contrary to the results reached in Hicks v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Company,4 and Titan Exteriors, Inc. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London,5 two recent decisions in which the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and a federal district court sitting in Mississippi concluded that labor costs should not be depreciated in arriving at an actual cash value settlement using a replacement cost less depreciation formula. Unlike the district court in Perry and Cranfield, the courts in Hicks and Titan Exteriors found no reason to decide which of the competing legal decisions were correct. Instead, they concluded that all of the interpretations offered by courts considering the labor depreciation issue were reasonable, rendering the term actual cash value ambiguous when defined as replacement cost less depreciation.

While the labor depreciation issue is an interesting legal debate, insurers can put this debate to rest simply by drafting its policy like State Farm has done in its “Actual Cash Value Endorsement” to clearly and unambiguously state that labor is subject to depreciation.6 Until they draft their policies to reflect their intent for labor to be subject to depreciation, insurers will be left to deal with decisions like Hicks and Titan Exteriors.
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1 Cranfield v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 1:16-cv-1273, 2018 WL 6162900 (N.D. Ohio Nov. 26, 2018).
2 Perry v. Allstate Indem. Co., No. 1:16-cv-01522, 2018 WL 6169311 (N.D. Ohio Nov. 26, 2018).
3 The district court referred to these cases as the current majority view among state and federal courts. But, as the Hicks court observed, these cases are not similarly situated. Many of them were not decided using the replacement cost less depreciation formula; instead, they employed the broad evidence rule, or some form of fair market valuation. Seee.g.Wilcox v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 874 N.W.2d 780 (Minn., 2016) . Under both the market value test or the broad evidence rule, all relevant evidence is considered in in calculating actual cash value.
4 Hicks v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 18-5104, 2018 WL 4961391 (6th Cir. Oct. 15, 2018).
5 Titan Exteriors, Inc. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, 297 F. Supp. 3d 628 (N.D. Miss. 2018).
6 Under this endorsement, all components of the estimated actual cash value, defined as the estimated cost to repair or to replace damaged property, are subject to depreciation, including labor, materials, taxes, and overhead and profit.

Replacement is Not Always a Prerequisite for an Insured to Claim Replacement Cost Benefits

Kesha Hodge | Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog | April 15, 2018

Replacement cost insurance generally allows recovery for the actual value of property at the time of loss, without deduction for deterioration, obsolescence, and similar depreciation of the property’s value. Depending on the circumstances, the difference between the actual cash value and the replacement cost value of a loss can be significant.

Policyholders and insurance companies often find themselves at odds on whether the policyholder has complied with the policy requirements for obtaining replacement cost benefits. In every case, one must be careful to note what the policy truly requires. A helpful illustration is found in Nicastro v. New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance Company.1 There, three days after his property was destroyed by a fire, the insured advised his property insurance carrier that he “elect[ed] to exercise any replacement cost options, which are or may become available.”

The replacement cost provision of the policy provided:

You may make a claim for the actual cash value amount of the loss before repairs are made. A claim for any additional amount payable under this provision must be made within 180 days after the loss.

A lawsuit followed. The insured contended that he had, in fact, made a claim in compliance with the replacement cost provision by advising the insurance company three days after the loss he would seek replacement costs for the premises. The insurance company countered and asserted that the insured did not comply with the replacement cost provision because it required that the insured make a “bona-fide” claim by “actually replacing and actually spending money in excess of the actual cash value within 180 days of the loss.” The court sided with the insured and concluded that the replacement cost provision was ambiguous because the term “claim” was not defined in the policy and, as an ambiguous provision, must be construed against the insurance company. Therefore, the insured was deemed entitled to full replacement cost coverage under the policy.

Many often assume that a replacement cost policy requires actual replacement before an insured can make a claim for the replacement cost, but like many things in the property insurance coverage arena, the ability to recover replacement costs depends largely on the language in the policy — that is, what the policy states and, sometimes, what the policy fails to state.
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1 Nicastro v. New York Central Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 148 A.D.3d 1737, 50 N.Y.S.3d 736 (4th Dep’t 2017).

The Proper Standard for Evaluating “Actual Cash Value” Under New Jersey Law

Jennifer Van Voorhis | Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog | April 12, 2018

One of the most common questions we hear from our clients has to do with the differences between “actual cash value” and “replacement cost value.” Replacement cost value on its face seems relatively straight forward, but what is “Actual Cash Value” determined under New Jersey law?

This topic was visited by Shane Smith following Super Storm Sandy in Calculating Actual Cash Value, Part 5: New Jersey and New York, and I was curious if the criteria had changed following such an influx of first party property damage claims.

There are typically three general ways to determine Actual Cash Value:

  1. market value;
  2. replacement cost less depreciation; and
  3. the broad evidence rule.1

The Broad Evidence Rule, in layman’s terms, is a combination of Market Value (what it’s selling for now) and Replacement Cost less Depreciation (how much it costs to replace minus age/wear & tear/condition, etc.).2 In Messing v. Reliance Insurance Company, the court found “that the broad evidence rule was most consistent with the principle of indemnity.”3

The Supreme Court of New Jersey agreed. In Elberon Bathing Company v Ambassador Insurance Company,4 a fire case that went to appraisal, the Court held:

“[T]hat (1) appraisal based on replacement cost without consideration of depreciation does not measure actual cash value; (2) the proper standard for evaluating ‘actual cash value’ under New Jersey standard form policy is broad evidence rule. . . .”

The Elberon the New Jersey Supreme Court found broad evidence to be the standard because it requires the fact-finder to consider the same evidence an expert would consider relevant to an evaluation; fair market value and replacement cost minus depreciation. The Court does allow the fact-finder to use the criteria as guidelines if the facts of the case are appropriate.
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1 See Note, “Valuation and Measure of Recovery Under Fire Insurance Policies,” 49 Colum. L. Rev. 818, 820-823 (1949); Cozen, Op. cit., supra, 12 Forum at 648-658; Hinkle, “The Meaning of ‘Actual Cash Value,’” 1967 Ins.L.J. 711. See generally Annot., 61 A.L.R.2d 711 (1958).
2 Messing v. Reliance Ins. Co., 77 N.J.Super. 531, 187 A.2d 49 (1962).
3 Id. at 534.
4 Elberon Bathing Co. Inc. v Ambassador Ins. Co., 77 N.J. 1, 389 A.2d 439 (1978).

The Proper Standard for Evaluating “Actual Cash Value” Under New Jersey Law

Jennifer Van Voorhies | Property Casualty Insurance Law Blog | April 12, 2018

One of the most common questions we hear from our clients has to do with the differences between “actual cash value” and “replacement cost value.” Replacement cost value on its face seems relatively straight forward, but what is “Actual Cash Value” determined under New Jersey law?

This topic was visited by Shane Smith following Super Storm Sandy in Calculating Actual Cash Value, Part 5: New Jersey and New York, and I was curious if the criteria had changed following such an influx of first party property damage claims.

There are typically three general ways to determine Actual Cash Value:

  1. market value;
  2. replacement cost less depreciation; and
  3. the broad evidence rule.1

The Broad Evidence Rule, in layman’s terms, is a combination of Market Value (what it’s selling for now) and Replacement Cost less Depreciation (how much it costs to replace minus age/wear & tear/condition, etc.).2 In Messing v. Reliance Insurance Company, the court found “that the broad evidence rule was most consistent with the principle of indemnity.”3

The Supreme Court of New Jersey agreed. In Elberon Bathing Company v Ambassador Insurance Company,4 a fire case that went to appraisal, the Court held:

“[T]hat (1) appraisal based on replacement cost without consideration of depreciation does not measure actual cash value; (2) the proper standard for evaluating ‘actual cash value’ under New Jersey standard form policy is broad evidence rule. . . .”

The Elberon the New Jersey Supreme Court found broad evidence to be the standard because it requires the fact-finder to consider the same evidence an expert would consider relevant to an evaluation; fair market value and replacement cost minus depreciation. The Court does allow the fact-finder to use the criteria as guidelines if the facts of the case are appropriate.
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1 See Note, “Valuation and Measure of Recovery Under Fire Insurance Policies,” 49 Colum. L. Rev. 818, 820-823 (1949); Cozen, Op. cit., supra, 12 Forum at 648-658; Hinkle, “The Meaning of ‘Actual Cash Value,’” 1967 Ins.L.J. 711. See generally Annot., 61 A.L.R.2d 711 (1958).
2 Messing v. Reliance Ins. Co., 77 N.J.Super. 531, 187 A.2d 49 (1962).
3 Id. at 534.
4 Elberon Bathing Co. Inc. v Ambassador Ins. Co., 77 N.J. 1, 389 A.2d 439 (1978).

Entitlement to Overhead and Profit on an Actual Cash Value Estimate

Jason Cleri | Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog | December 10, 2017

In the New York class action suit, Mazzocki v. State Farm, 1 A.D.3d 9 (N.Y. 3rd Dept. 2003), the Appellate Court for the Third Department finally clarified the question regarding overhead and profit in actual cash value and replacement cost value claims.

Plaintiffs in the class action sustained storm damage to buildings on their respective properties and filed claims for the actual cash value of the damage under homeowner’s insurance policies issued by State Farm. State Farm then excluded overhead and profit expenses of a general contractor in calculating the actual cash value. Plaintiffs cited the loss settlement provision in the policy which read:

We will pay the cost to repair or replace buildings…subject to the following: (1) until actual repair or replacement is complete, we will pay the actual cash value of the damage to the buildings, up to the policy limits, not to exceed the replacement cost of the damaged part of the building. . . . Any additional payment is limited to that amount you actually and necessarily spend to repair or replace the damaged buildings. . . .

The issue raised by the Plaintiffs was whether State Farm’s refusal to include overhead and profit in its estimate of replacement cost in the first instance constitutes a breach of the terms of its policies. The court stated:

Actual cash value is payable regardless of whether the property is eventually repaired or replaced. Under New York law, “[t]he determination of actual cash value is made under a broad rule of evidence which allows the trier of fact to consider ‘every fact and circumstance which would logically tend to the formation of a correct estimate of the loss’” (Cass v. Finger Lakes Coop. Ins. Co., 107 A.D.2d 904, 905, 483 N.Y.S.2d (1985), quoting McAnarney v. Newark Fire Ins. Co., 247 N.Y. 176, 184, 159 N.E. 902 (1982).

The court determined that in applying the same logic as in Salesin v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 229 Mich.App. 346, 367, 581 N.W.2d 781, 790 (1998), the term “replacement cost” – as opposed to “actual replacement cost” – in State Farm’s policies can reasonably be interpreted to include profit and overhead whenever it is reasonably likely that a general contractor will be needed to repair or replace the damage. Therefore, the court confirmed that Plaintiffs may bring a breach of contract action when overhead and profit is excluded from an estimate upon proof of the likely necessity of a general contractor’s services in the repair or replacement of their damaged property.