Merlin: Endorsement Trumps Exclusion – Hurricane Anticoncurrent Causation Case and Policyholder Wins!

Of controlling significance is the fact that in every such case, without exception, the respective courts interpreted concurrent cause exclusions as they appeared in the insurers’ basic policies, determining only whether a cause of loss otherwise covered by the basic policy was excluded from coverage when it occurred concurrently with a cause of loss excluded in the basic policy. None of those cases addresses the modifying language of an extra-cost endorsement on the language of the basic policy, the ambiguity that it created or the reasonable expectations of an insured in light of that ambiguity. Thus, those courts did not confront the linguistic interplay we address here. Consequently, they were able to find the language of the concurrent cause exclusion unambiguous as it applied to claims made under the basic policy. Given the language they considered and the circumstances to which they applied it, we might well have reached the same conclusions. Nevertheless, those scenarios are not before us. Accordingly, we do not find these cases Penn National cites apposite to our disposition.

At last, a ruling on policy endorsements that makes sense – and just as I was struggling (for the umpteenth time) to understand why a hurricane endorsement cost more and bought nothing!  h/t  Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog

A Hurricane Ivan claim that involved flood and sewer back up was not excluded because of the anticoncurrent causation clause in Bishops, Inc. v. Penn National Ins., Case Nos. 2275 WDA 2007, 35 WDA 2008 (Pa. Super. Nov. 24, 2009). The important aspect of this case is how an endorsement purchased to cover sewer back up rendered the anticoncurrent cause clause ineffective for sewer back up as well as income and extra expense coverage. (emphasis SLABBED) Some decisions are quite easy to analyze, while others make you read portions of a court’s reasoning two or three times. This case is the latter. My tip for policyholders from this case is to always review your endorsements to see if additional coverage is provided.

The damage was caused by water backing up through the sewer and subsequent flooding from Hurricane Ivan. The physical damages caused by each event were not able to be segregated. The insurance company denied the claim citing fairly common exclusionary language:

B. EXCLUSIONS

1. We will not pay for loss or damage caused directly or indirectly by any of the following. Such loss or damage is excluded regardless of any other cause or event that contributes concurrently or in any sequence to the loss.
* * *

g. Water
(1) Flood, surface water, waves, tides, tidal waves, overflow of any body of water, or their spray, all whether driven by wind or not.
(2) Mudslide or mudflow;
(3) Water that backs up or overflows from a sewer, drain or sump;
(4) Water under the ground surface pressing on, or flowing or seeping through:
(a) Foundations, walls, floors or paved surfaces;
(b) Basements, whether paved or not; or
(c) Doors, windows or other openings.

The endorsement purchased provided for the following:

II. Additional Coverages
The following Additional Coverages are added;

f. Back Up of Sewers and Drains
We will pay for loss or damage to Covered Property caused by a back up from a sewer or drain or an overflow from a sump within the building at the described premises.

The most we will pay for each location under this Additional Coverage is $ 5,000 for the sum of all expenses arising from back up or overflow during each 12 month period of the policy.

Exclusion B.1.9.(3) does not apply to this Additional Coverage

The Court pointed out the interpretation dispute between the parties:

Significantly, this language removes Exclusion B.1.g.(3) of the basic policy as a bar to coverage for damage caused by sewer and drain back-up and makes no effort to restate the language that bars coverage on the ground of concurrent causation by another excluded cause of loss. This omission fosters a measure of ambiguity unlikely to appear until the insured files a claim, confident in the notion that the endorsement he purchased rendered all aspects of the former exclusion void only to find that the insurer interprets his coverage far more narrowly. That ambiguity becomes evident upon consideration of Exclusion B.1.g.(3) in its entirety:

B. EXCLUSIONS

1. We will not pay for loss or damage caused directly or indirectly by any of the following. Such loss or damage is excluded regardless of any other cause or event that contributes concurrently or in any sequence to the loss.
g. Water
* * *

(3) Water that backs up or overflows from a sewer, drain or sump;

…Based on this language, the insured might reasonably conclude that the coverage he purchased eliminates both the specified limitation in subsection g.(3), concerning sewer and drain back-up, as well as the preliminary language in section B.1., concerning concurrent causation. Nevertheless, the insurer might concur only as to subsection g.(3) and, as Penn National did here, deny coverage on the basis of the concurrent cause language.

Ruling for the policyholder, the court noted the unfairness of applying the subject exclusion in this case:

In view of the evident linguistic joust between these controlling provisions of Penn National’s policy, we find a significant indicator of the parties’ intent–and the insured’s expectations–in the fact that the insured paid an added premium for the coverage the Penn Pac Endorsement purports to unlock because the basic policy, in which the concurrent cause language appears, would otherwise exclude coverage. Thus, the insured purchased additional coverage ostensibly to make up for deficiencies in the basic policy only to find its claim denied not by virtue of any limitation on the coverage it bought but because ancillary language in the basic policy barred coverage for another excluded loss. Such a result strikes us as a variant of the “sleight of hand” we rejected in Betz, allowing an insurer to create the appearance of coverage using an amendatory endorsement tailored to cover a stated risk only to deny coverage when that risk comes to fruition by citing language not suggested by the endorsement…. Given that the concurrent causes of loss, flooding and sewer and drain back-up, were ineluctably linked by the effect of a hurricane on the municipal drainage system, we find this point particularly salient. No insured would purchase extra coverage for an added premium in the expectation that its claim under that coverage would be denied because the covered cause of loss, i.e., sewer and drain back-up, was itself caused by an excluded cause of loss, i.e. flood, when the two would naturally occur together. Nevertheless, the interpretation Penn National urges would validate just such an unseemly result and in so doing undermine the reasonable expectations of the insured. (emphasis SLABBED)

The decision is very important for policyholder attorneys when attempting to avoid the effect of the anticoncurrent clause if the policy has an endorsement because the court specifically distinguishes this situation from cases where the clause concerns only coverage within the basic policy:

Unlike the courts of other jurisdictions on whose holdings Penn National relies, we have found the Endorsement and Exclusion provisions ambiguous to the extent that they fail to provide a clear indication of the continuing role of the concurrent causation language of Exclusion section B.1. after the insured’s purchase of the extra cost Endorsement. Indeed, our construction, based on the express language of the Penn Pac Endorsement, finds little basis for the continued viability of the concurrent cause exclusion to sewer and drain back-up under the policy. By contrast, in each of the cases Penn National cites, Brief for Appellant at 22-33, the respective courts upheld concurrent cause provisions. See Leonard v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 499 F.3d 419 (5th Cir. 2007); Noran Neurological Clinic, P.A. v. Travelers Indem. Co., 229 F.3d 707 (8th Cir. 2000); Front Row Theatre, Inc. v. American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co., 18 F.3d 1343 (6th Cir. 1994); [**29] Assurance Co. of Am., Inc. v. Jay-Mar, Inc., 38 F.Supp.2d 349 (D. N.J. 1999); Executive Corners Office Building v. Maryland Ins. Co., 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23444 (D. N.D. 1999); B&W Heat Treating Co. v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 23 A.D.3d 1102, 803 N.Y.S.2d 870, 2005 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 12729 (App. Div. 2005). Nevertheless, to the extent these decisions apply different language in differently structured policies, every one is distinguishable.

Of controlling significance is the fact that in every such case, without exception, the respective courts interpreted concurrent cause exclusions as they appeared in the insurers’ basic policies, determining only whether a cause of loss otherwise covered by the basic policy was excluded from coverage when it occurred concurrently with a cause of loss excluded in the basic policy. None of those cases addresses the modifying language of an extra-cost endorsement on the language of the basic policy, the ambiguity that it created or the reasonable expectations of an insured in light of that ambiguity. Thus, those courts did not confront the linguistic interplay we address here. Consequently, they were able to find the language of the concurrent cause exclusion unambiguous as it applied to claims made under the basic policy. Given the language they considered and the circumstances to which they applied it, we might well have reached the same conclusions. Nevertheless, those scenarios are not before us. Accordingly, we do not find these cases Penn National cites apposite to our disposition.

This case is useful for policyholders seeking coverage when they have purchased additional coverage through endorsements but the insurer is trying to apply basic form exclusions.

2 thoughts on “Merlin: Endorsement Trumps Exclusion – Hurricane Anticoncurrent Causation Case and Policyholder Wins!”

  1. To shortcut this the bottom line is coverage follows premium. Judge Bender’s reasoning is well grounded in basic logic. Nowdy didn’t highlight the language but if a few sentences sum up why I think this opinion is so solid and grounded in the law it would be this:

    ……the insured purchased additional coverage ostensibly to make up for deficiencies in the basic policy only to find its claim denied not by virtue of any limitation on the coverage it bought but because ancillary language in the basic policy barred coverage for another excluded loss. Such a result strikes us as a variant of the

  2. The law recognizes “reasonable expectations” but our Courts have totally ignored that aspect of insurance law.

    While I recognize there is still an on-going media campaign to convince the public that policyholders here were folks claiming coverage they didn’t purchase, the Court should always be above such influence but never above the law.

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