Tred R. Eyerly | Insurance Law Hawaii | April 23, 2018
The Tennessee Court of Appeals found that the insured was entitled to coverage under the policy’s “ordinance or law” provision for repairs to prevent a future collapse of both the damaged and undamaged portions of the building. Jefferson Cnty. Schools v. Tenn. Risk Mgmt. Trust, 2018 Tenn. app. LEXIS 138 (Tenn. Ct. App. March 15, 2018).
A major rainstorm caused a portion of Building 8, an aging vocation building at a high school, to collapse. Building 8 was covered through Tennessee Risk Management up to $100,000. Excess claims were covered by Travelers Indemnity Company. The policy included an “ordinance or law” provision providing for coverage of expenses “caused by the enforcement of any ordinance or law.” Further, the insurer agreed to pay for the loss to any undamaged portions of a building caused by the enforcement of any ordinance or law that required the construction or repair of buildings.
After the collapse, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office issued a directive to school officials requiring a structural engineer to evaluate the unimpaired structure to ensure that the structural integrity of the remaining building was in adequate condition and future collapses would not occur.
The insured hired a structural engineer and expensive work ensued. Travelers paid for the reconstruction of the collapsed portion of Building 8 and certain additional work on the rest of the building. However, disagreements arose as to additional coverage. The structural engineer determined that compliance with the Fire Marshal’s directive required vertical reinforcement of the remainder of Building 8. The insurer’s structural engineer disagreed that the additional reinforcement was necessary and Travelers declined to pay for the additional work.
The insured sued, arguing that under the “ordinance or law” provision, the insurers were responsible for the additional work undertaken in order to comply with the Fire Marshal’s directive. The case was tried without a jury. The trial court ruled that the insured had failed to show that the additional work was due to a loss caused by the enforcement of any ordinance or law. There was no showing of a code violation in the portion of the building that did not collapse.
On appeal, the insurers argued that the Fire Marshal’s directive, lacking in any citations to specific code violations, failed to constitute an “ordinance or law.” The Fire Marshal, however, had authority to adopt building codes for the State of Tennessee. The insured had to comply with the Fire Marshal’s directive before it could use a repaired Building 8. The insured’s engineer determined that reinforcement of the walls to the non-collapsed parts of Building 8 was required in order to comply with the Fire Marshal’s directive. The fact that the insurers’ structural engineer did not think the additional work was necessary did not negate the opinion of the insured’s engineer in accordance with the Fire Marshal’s directive to ensure the structural integrity of the remaining building.
The court found that it was within the Fire Marshal’s authority under Tennessee law to issue the directive it did. It was this directive that triggered the “ordinance or law” provision of the policy. Therefore, the insurers were responsible for covering the cost of the additional work necessary to comply with the Fire Marshal’s directive.