Calculating Actual Cash Value, Part 26: Montana

Shane Smith | Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog | July 5, 2017

In Montana, a jury may consider all relevant evidence when determining the actual cash value of the property damaged or destroyed.1 Under the broad evidence rule, the trier of fact “may consider any evidence logically tending to the formation of a correct estimate of the value of the insured property at the time of the loss.”2

Where a policy limits the insurer’s liability to the actual cash value at the time of the loss, what constitutes actual cash value depends upon the nature of the property insured, its condition, and other circumstances existing at the time of loss.3

Depreciation because of age should be considered in determining the actual cash value of a building partially destroyed by fire.4

However, although not expressly rejecting the use of depreciation based on the age of a building partially destroyed by fire in arriving at its sound value before the fire, the court in McIntosh v. Hartford Fire Insurance Company,5 did not use a depreciation percentage in further determining the amount of liability of the defendant insurance companies. The record showed that the buildings had been insured under policies which provided “against all direct loss or damage by fire. . .” and also that the company “shall not be liable beyond the actual cash value of the property at the time any loss or damage occurs, and the loss or damage shall be ascertained or estimated according to such actual cash value, with proper deduction for depreciation however caused, and shall in no event exceed what it would then cost the insured to repair or replace the same with material of like kind and quality.” The insurance companies argued that where the buildings had depreciated 48%, the cost of repairing them using new materials should likewise be depreciated by the same percentage in fixing the amount of liability of the companies. The court held that under the state statute, Mont. Code Ann. § 33-24-101, where there was no valuation in the policy, the measure of indemnity in insurance against fire is the expense, at the time that the loss is payable, of replacing the thing lost or injured, in the condition in which it was at the time of injury, and that since no valuation of the property insured was included in any of the policies the statute was incorporated into them. The court reversed and remanded with directions to enter judgment against the insurance companies for an amount equal to the full cost of repairing the building using new materials where necessary to restore it to the condition it was in before the fire.
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1 CQI, Inc. v. Mountain W. Farm Bureau Ins. Co., No. CV 08-134-BLG-CSO, 2010 WL 2943143, at *2 (D. Mont. July 21, 2010).
2 Id.citing Interstate Gourmet Coffee Roasters, Inc. v. Seaco Ins. Co., 59 Mass. App. Ct. 78, 794 N.E.2d 607, 611 (Mass. App. Ct. 2003).
3 Century Corp. v. Phoenix of Hartford, 157 Mont. 16, 482 P.2d 1020 (1971).
4 Lee v. Providence Washington Ins. Co., 82 Mont. 264, 266 P. 640 (1928).
5 McIntosh v Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 106 Mont. 434, 78 P.2d 82 (1938).

“Occurrence” May Include Intentional Acts In Montana

Tred R. Eyerly | Insurance Law Hawaii | June 15, 2016

The Montana Supreme Court found that policy language defining “accidents may include intentional acts.” Employers Mut. Cas. Co. v. Fisher Builders, Inc., 2016 Mont. LEXIS 269 (Mont. Sup. Ct. April 19, 2016).

Jerry and Karen Slack hired Fisher Builders to build a remodeled home located on the site of their home at Flathead Lake. The existing home was an aged vacation home. The County zoning regulations required the remodeled home to incorporate the existing structure. The permit issued to the Slacks required the existing deck to remain unchanged.

Fisher elevated the existing home structure on steel beams to pour a new foundation. Fisher began to dismantle the walls while the structure was resting on the beams, and found an infestation of carpenter ants. The ant-infested planks were cut out, apparently in order to salvage what usable materials he could from the remaining structure. The ant-infested boards were subsequently burned. Eventually, the deck collapsed.

The County visited the site and issued a cease and desist order. The construction permit was revoked because the existing structure had been destroyed. The Slacks appealed the revocation of their construction permit and eventually reached a settlement with the County that allowed them to construct a home, albeit a smaller one than had been previously approved.

The Slacks sued Fisher. Employers Mutual Casualty Company (EMC), Fisher’s insurer, defended under a reservation of rights. EMC also filed a declaratory judgment action, alleging there was no coverage. Fisher assigned his claims under the EMC policy to the Slacks. The trial court granted EMC’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that Fisher’s conduct was intentional and did fit within the meaning of “occurrence” under the policy.

The Montana Supreme Court reversed. Whether the insured intended or expected the injury stemming from an intentional act was an objective inquiry. The policy language defining “accidents” could include intentional acts if the damages were not objectively intended or expected by the insured.

Further, there were issues of genuine material fact. The Slacks contested the trial court’s determination that Fisher left parts of the home and deck unsupported, causing the deck to collapse, that Fisher “destroyed” the original structure by dismantling the walls, and that Fisher failed to retain a sufficient portion of the original structure in order to maintain the non-conforming use status. Therefore, further proceedings were necessary to resolve factual issues related to application of the coverage provisions of the policy.