Posts Tagged ‘Baker v American Home Assurance Company’

Some Claim Insurance Will Not Cover Chinese Drywall Losses. Is it True?

The Controversy and Uncertainty

This much is clear:  it is not certain how the courts will interpret insurance policies and insurance policy exclusions, as they apply to Chinese Drywall claims.

Many predict that the insurance industry will rely on what is called a “pollution exclusion” to deny Chinese Drywall insurance claims.

A South Carolina Construction Insurer, Contractor-Insure.com, makes this claim in a recent press release:

Most contractor General Liability insurance policies contain the Total Pollution Exclusion.  All claims adjusters who have been interviewed will take the position that the sulfur dioxide fumes released by the defective Chinese drywall are ‘pollution’ and as a result all legal defense and damages under the General Liability policy will be denied.

While the press release largely discussed builder general liability policies, the same controversy exists for homeowners insurance policies.

Further, the controversy and predication are proving to be true, as across the country there are already suits on the issue.

As already reported on the Chinese Drywall Blog, in Baker v. American Home Insurance Company, a homeowner sued their insurance carrier claiming coverage for Chinese Drywall claims.   In Builders Mutual v. The Dragas Company, a builder’s general liability insurer brought a declaratory judgment action to have a judge declare that Chinese Drywall damage was not insured.

The claimed exclusion:  Pollution.

Both suits are very important to homeowners with Chinese Drywall claims.   But for Louisiana homeowners….how will the issue be resolved?

Why Louisiana Is Different

Unlike in South Carolina and most other states, Louisiana has very narrowly interpreted the pollution exclusion.   We reviewed the applicability of the pollution exclusion to Louisiana insurance claims in a previous blog post here:  Home Builders v. Insurance Pollution Exclusion.

There, we quoted the seminal case in Louisiana on this subject titled Doerr v. Mobil Oil Corp.  The long and short of things:  “Using the Doerr analysis, it seems that builders or suppliers would not be considered a “polluter” within the meaning of the exclusion” in Chinese Drywall claims.

For homeowners with Chinese Drywall, and builders with potential exposure, this is welcome news.    While the issue remains unresolved, the Doerr decision at least gives homeowners and homebuilders hope that Chinese Drywall losses may be insured, and therefore, within reach.

The problem now?   Getting homeowners and home builders to timely make claims and pursue recovery.

This article was originally posted on Wolfe Law Group’s topic-specific Chinese Drywall Blog.

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Homeowner Sues Their Homeowners Insurer for Chinese Drywall Defects

On the Chinese Drywall Blog, we’ve talked about class action suits, individual suits against builders and suppliers, suits by builders against its suppliers, and other similar actions.

However, in Florida, one couple seeks to hold another party liable for their Chinese Drywall damages:  their own homeowners insurer.

The claim makes a great deal of sense, and it adds to the mystery of who will eventually be responsible for the Chinese Drywall damages.

The suit was brought in a Florida U.S. District Court, and is captioned Baker v. American Home Assurance Company, Inc., Middle District of Florida, No. 09-cv-188-FtM-99DNF.  (read here)

According to the complaint, the homeowners made a claim in December 2008 related to damages caused by Chinese Drywall.  The complaint describes the cause of the damage as coming from “drywall…emitting gases which have damaged the Subject Property and the contents therein.”

After inspection and testing, the insurer denied the claim for “contamination.”     The Baker complaint argues that the damages were not caused by “contaminants” as defined by the policy.

The policy at the center of the Baker action defines “contaminates” as follows:

An impurity resulting from the mixture of or contact with a foreign substance.

According to the complaint, there was not ‘mixture or contact with a foreign substantance,’ and therefore, the pollution exclusion would not apply.

The Baker exclusion is far less detailed then some of the other pollution exclusions found in Commercial General Liability policies…and therefore, may be interpreted differently.

If pollution exclusions in homeowners policies are generally less complex than GCL policies, it may be prudent for homeowners to make timely claims against their homeowner policies if they are faced with Chinese Drywall damages.

It’s too early to predict exactly who will be responsible for damages associated with Chinese Drywall, especially since so many parties are involved.   To rely simply on one remedy (i.e. a class action) is probably an irresponsible choice for homeowners faced with significant damages.

We’re likely to see a flood of suits in the coming months against builders, home insurers, suppliers and other responsible parties.   Home insurance policies will likely file subrogation claims against builders, suppliers and other parties as well.

We’ll monitor the Baker suit as it proceeds.  Stay tuned.

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