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Homeowners Insurance Policies Part 1: Is It Excluded?

Reading your homeowner's insurance policy can be a daunting task. The policies often feel intentionally designed to get you not to read them. One reason might be so that you do not realize all the occurrences that happen in your daily life that may be covered. This primer is designed to go over some basics of reading your policy and ensure that you start maximizing the value that you get for diligently paying premiums.

Let's start with exclusions. Most of us know that insurance companies do everything they can to keep from paying a claim. The good news is that under Ohio law "an exclusion in an insurance policy will be interpreted as applying only to that which is clearly intended to be excluded."1 In other words, if your policy does not explicitly say that a certain occurrence is excluded, then you have a good argument that it should be covered. We recently had a case where a woman was denied coverage when her house burned to the ground because she did not reside in the home at the time of the fire. The good news is that the exclusion section of the insurance policy did not explicitly discuss fire damage when the home was vacant, and the insurance company is attempting to deny the claim based on the definition section of the policy. We believe we have a good argument to get our client coverage.

Often the issues are more complicated. The Ohio Supreme Court for example held that a policy which excluded coverage for an insured's intentional acts did not necessarily exclude coverage for an insured's negligent acts when the policy did not explicitly say that negligent acts were excluded as well.2 In that case the insureds' son stabbed a neighbor, and the homeowners policy excluded coverage for this intentional act, but not for the claim that the parents of the assailant were negligent in supervising him.3 We recently had a case where a family was initially denied any insurance coverage after a serious burn injury because of an intra-family exclusion. Thankfully, we were able to collect the entire policy after litigating the matter.

The implications of a coverage decision can be huge, and often are the difference between financial peace and financial ruin for the insured. Do you have a policy coverage question? Have you been denied a claim on your homeowners policy? The attorneys at Rittgers & Rittgers can help you review the policy and assess your options. Stay tuned for the next installment in this insurance policy primer.

1 Lager v. Miller-Gonzalez, 120 Ohio St.3d 47, 2008-Ohio-4838, 896 N.E.2d 666 (2008) 

2 Safeco Ins. Co. of Am. v. White, 122 Ohio St.3d 562, 2009-Ohio-3718, 913 N.E.2d 426, ¶ 42 (2009)

3 Id.

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