Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The meaning of "collapse"

This has been a great winter for taking my kids sledding. But the snow is not so fun when its weight is bending the roof of your building. And it's even worse if your insurance doesn't cover the damage.

Policies with coverage for property damage may insure “against the risk of direct physical loss or damage involving collapse of a building or any part of a building” due to causes including the "weight of ice and snow or sleet.” “Collapse” is an undefined word in the policies.

Nationally, the cases discussing collapse coverage generally fall into one of three camps. The narrow view is that the coverage is limited to the actual falling down of a covered structure. The broad view is that any substantial structural impairment that threatens collapse comes within the coverage. A "moderate" view is that the coverage includes the threat of imminent collapse.

Massachusetts courts take the narrow view. In Dreiblatt v. Trustees of the Shipway Place Condominium Ass’n, 264 F.3d 126 (1st Cir. 2001), a building suffered roof damage as a result of a heavy snowstorm. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that under Massachusetts law, “collapse” requires three elements: “suddenness, a perceptible change in appearance, and completeness.” Where the damage consists of the outside walls leaning inward, cracks appearing in the ceilings and interior walls, and a two-inch drop in the roof as a result of faulty design combined with the weight of snow, no collapse has occurred. Driscoll v. Providence Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 69 Mass. App. Ct. 341, 345 (2007).

1 comment:

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