Tred R. Eyerly | Insurance Law Hawaii | July 25, 2018
Faced with a series of policies, earlier ones which did not define collapse, newer policies which did, the court determined there was a possibility of coverage under the older policies which did not define collapse. Vera v. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100548 (D. Conn. June 15, 2018).
Connecticut courts have faced a rash of collapse cases as a result of cement provided to build house foundations by J.J. Mottes Concrete Co. Many basement foundations built with the concrete have shown cracking and other signs of premature deterioration.
Here, plaintiffs noticed cracking in their basement. Their expert, William Neal, found “spider web cracking” and several vertical external cracks. But the house did not show any signs of falling down. The expert believed the cement was the cause of the cracks. Mr. Neal recommended replacing the basement walls.
Plaintiffs submitted a claim to Liberty. Liberty sent an inspector to the home. After the inspection, the claim was denied because the cracking was due to faulty, inadequate or defective materials along with settling.
The policy covered collapse as follows:
8. Collapse. We insure for direct physical loss to covered property involving collapse of a building or any part of a building caused only be one or more of the following . . .
b. Hidden decay
The policy had exclusions for faulty, inadequate or defective design, workmanship, construction, etc.
In a prior case, the Connecticut Supreme Court defined collapse as the “substantial impairment of structural integrity” of a building or any part of a building. Beach v. Middlesex Mut. Assur. Co.,, 532 A. 2d 1297, 1300 (Conn 1987). Since Beach, no Connecticut appellate court had explained what “substantial impairment of structural integrity” meant. It was not clear how “substantial” an impairment needed to be to constitute “collapse.”
Therefore, the court certified the following question to the Connecticut Supreme Court:
What constitutes a “substantial impairment of structural integrity” for purposes of applying the “collapse” provisions of this homeowners’ insurance policy?
The same question was previously certified to the Connecticut Supreme Court by Judge Underhill, another Federal District Court Judge from the District of Connecticut [post here].