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Florida Appeals Court Rules that Water Damage from Damaged Pipe Covered by Policy, Cheetham v. Southern Oak Insurance Company, Case No. 3d11-3277 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2013)

Our water damage attorneys find that water damage is still one of the reasons most commonly stated in home insurance claims, particularly in Florida. Water damage may stem from a wide range of reasons – severe weather events, bursting pipes, overflowing tubs or sinks, etc. Consequently, many homeowner’s insurance cases that policyholders file in court raise issues regarding the denial of claims involving water damage. The case below shows how one homeowner prevailed against an insurance company that denied a claim arising from water damage.

In Cheetham v. Southern Oak Insurance Company, the plaintiff filed an insurance claim with Southern Oak Insurance Company, their insurer. The plaintiff’s home had sustained some water damage, but Southern Oak denied the claim, stating that the insurance policy had a water damage exclusion statement that applied to the claim and supported its denial. Specifically, the damage exclusion provided that the policy excluded losses caused by water that backs up in the drains or sewers or overflows or discharged from a sump pump or other equipment. However, the policy also states that the policy covers accidental release or overflow of water from a sewer pipe in the premises or plumbing system on the premises.

During the trial, the fact that a pipe located in the home broke because of deterioration and age. Since the pipe was located underground, debris got into the pipe and blocked it, which caused sewage to back up through the pipe and into the home through the drains. The trial court ruled for the insurance company and found that Southern Oak’s insurance policy excluded the claim.

The Third District Court of Appeal of Florida issued a decision on appeal. First, the court affirmed the principle in insurance contracts that the court will interpret their language according to its plain language as agreed to by the parties. Therefore, the court examined the policy as a whole to determine if it was ambiguous.

In the court’s analysis, it found that the language of the policy included, as a covered loss, the discharge of water from a plumbing system caused by that system’s deterioration. Additionally, the court examined the water damage exclusion language and found that it contemplated water coming from outside forces that were unrelated to the home’s plumbing system. Such excluded water damage may come from, for example, flood, tidal water, waves, etc. The court further found that the exclusion relates to damage caused by water that is not coming from the home’s plumbing system even though the water eventually comes up through a pipe or a drain within the home’s plumbing system.

Ultimately, the court found that the water damage exclusion in the policy related to any loss caused by water coming from somewhere else other than the home’s plumbing systems. The loss, in this case, was the result of the deterioration of one of the home’s pipes in its plumbing system, which caused water from the plumbing system to back up into the house.

If your insurance company denied your homeowner’s insurance claim and you believe such denial was wrong, the Miami homeowner’s insurance lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire.  With over 130 collective years of experience representing homeowner’s insurance clients across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence.  Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights.  Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald.   Put our exceptional personal injury attorneys to work on your case.  Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

 

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