Representing Insurance Policyholders in Complex Vandalism Claims
Not every insurance policy covers loss by vandalism, also known as malicious mischief. When a policy does cover vandalism, three questions typically arise. First, has the property been vacant or unoccupied for more than 60 days prior to the loss? Second, if the policy covers vandalism but does not cover theft, then what portion of the loss is due to vandalism and what portion is due to theft? Third, is a fire set by vandals a covered fire claim or a non-covered vandalism claim?
From these three issues a whole subset of issues may arise:
- What constitutes vacancy?
- How does vacancy differ from unoccupancy?
- How much property must be present to defeat the vacancy exclusion?
- How often must someone be at the building to defeat the unoccupancy argument?
- Is a house vacant or unoccupied if the elderly insured suffers a broken hip and must live in an assisted living facility for an extended period of time?
- What if she never recovers and cannot move home?
- Is a home listed for sale after the resident dies unoccupied for purposes of this exclusion?
Rutter & Russin is experienced in handling vandalism and malicious mischief claims similar to this representative case:
The policyholder bought a distressed house in East Cleveland hoping that he could repair it and make a profit. However, his tenants had other ideas. They trashed the house and rendered it unlivable. While the owner struggled to make repairs, the home was set on fire. The insurance company was not sympathetic to the homeowner's plight — it argued that the house was vacant at the time of the fire and that fire was not covered under the policy if the structure was vacant for more than 30 days. Rutter & Russin filed suit and convinced the trial judge and the court of appeals that the cause of loss was vandalism — not arson — and that vandalism was a covered peril even for vacant structures.