Friday, June 24, 2011

Appeals Court holds that word maintain in coverage means keep in place, not keep in working order

French King Restaurant, insured by Interstate, had in place had a dry chemical fire suppression system.

The insurance policy contained a "protective safeguards endorsement," or PSE, which required French King "to maintain" the fire suppression system. The policy excluded coverage for loss or damage caused by by or resulting from fire if French King "knew of any suspension or impairment" in the system or failed to maintain the system "in complete working order."

In 2002 Kidde, the manufacturer of the fire suppression system, issued a bulletin advising that it would no longer support dry chemical systems. Kidde had previously recommended that dry chemical systems be upgraded to wet chemical systems. As of 2002, the dry system could no longer be inspected, serviced, recharged, or repaired.

In 2003, the company French King hired to inspect its fire protection system warned it that the system was not in accordance with current requirements.

In 2004 the Executive Office for Public Safety announced that dry systems needed to be upgraded to wet systems.

After the subject insurance policy was issued in 2005, the private fire inspector again informed French King that to be in compliance with current standards a wet fire suppression system was required. That same month, the city's building inspector informed French King that he could not issue a certificate of inspection until the system had been fixed.

In October, 2005 there was a fire at the restaurant. The fire suppression system failed to function. Interstate declined to pay the loss on the grounds that French King had failed to "maintain" the fire suppression system and that exclusions relating to the fire suppression system applied.

In French King Realty Inc. v. Interstate Fire & Cas. Co., 79 Mass. App. Ct. 653 (2011), the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that the word "maintain" was ambiguous and must be interpreted in a manner favorable to French King as meaning merely having a fire suppression system in place.

The court ruled that coverage was excluded by the exclusion for loss or damage if the insured knew of any suspension or impairment in the fire protection system. It held that the record showed clearly that French King knew that the fire suppression system was impaired. It ruled that coverage was also excluded because French King failed to maintain the system "in complete working order."

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