June 1, 2011
In a case where Allstate Insurance Company denied a first-party homeowner’s insurance claim, a Philadelphia jury found in favor of Allstate after a four day trial. In this case, Michael P. Maguire represented the defendant insurance company. The plaintiffs claimed their home was suddenly and accidentally damaged by smoke/soot. Allstate denied the claim because the damages were not sudden and accidental and, therefore, not covered by the insurance policy. The plaintiffs subsequently sold the property without making any repairs, and did not argue any diminution of value claim.
The plaintiffs claimed that they returned from a Christmas vacation and discovered smoke/soot damage to their Ivyland, Pa., home while they were taking down Christmas decorations. The plaintiffs denied having any prior problems with smoke/soot in the property. However, evidence from the plaintiffs’ own contractor indicated a soot problem in the plaintiffs’ property dating back to 2004. Also, independent experts determined that the soot/smoke damage occurred over a long period of time due to an unvented gas fireplace, unvented wall heater and use of scented candles.
The plaintiffs hired a public adjuster, who reported the claim to Allstate as a “puffback” of the furnace even though the property had gas heat (and never had oil heat). The plaintiffs’ public adjuster prepared estimates totaling $65,112 for structural damage and $9,021 for damage to the plaintiffs’ contents. The plaintiffs claimed a “puffback” of the furnace caused the damage during deposition testimony, but disclosed a “puffback” of the gas fireplace in their Sellers’ Disclosure Statement when they sold the property. At trial, the plaintiffs argued that an external source must have caused the damage. However, the windows and doors at the property were shut for the duration of the plaintiffs’ Christmas vacation, and there was no evidence of any external source of the smoke/soot.