Court Rules Intentionally Set Fire Not Excluded Under Vacancy Exclusion [Part II]

J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo
Founder of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A.

This is the second installment in our two part blog post analyzing a recent case involving the applicability of the vacancy exclusion in a homeowner’s policy to a loss caused by fire.  In Part I of this blog, we provided an overview of the facts and the majority’s decision.  The conclusion of this blog post analyzes the dissenting opinion and outlines the important lessons policyholders can glean from this case.

Dissenting Opinion

The dissenting judge took issue with the majority’s assumption that “malice” required an actual desire to cause harm or an intent to injure someone.  The dissent indicated that a more appropriate reading of the policy involved equating “willful” with “intentional” in terms of setting the fire.  In other words, the purpose of the provision was to exclude acts that were deliberate rather than accidental. 

The dissenting opinion also took issue with the majority’s reliance on evidence the vagrant made an attempt to stop the fire as raising a jury question regarding the transient’s intent to damage the home.  The act of starting the fire in the kitchen demonstrated “willful” (i.e., intentional) defacement of the property.  Even if the vagrant intended to confine the fire to the floor of the kitchen, the flooring would inevitably be damaged once the blaze was started according to the dissenting judge.  Whether or not the purpose of the fire was to generate warmth or burn down the house was irrelevant under this analysis.

Keep Your Home Safe, Protect Against a Vacant Appearance

This case offers a number of valuable lessons for homeowners.  From a safety point of view, the most obvious issue is that a residence should be made to “look” occupied even if no one is living inside.  This can be accomplished by leaving on lights rather than having the electricity turned off, or even leaving some furnishings within the home.  The situation often arises when a home is listed for sale or a renter has vacated the premises.  In either situation, the owner of the property should implement measures to make it appear that the home is occupied.  A home that appears abandoned often constitutes an invitation to criminals, delinquents, vandals, and others with malicious motives.  The steps taken to make the home look occupied do not need to be costly or elaborate: 

  • Vegetation and landscaping being maintained
  • Furnishings inside the home visible to those looking in windows while driving or walking past the home
  • Lights being turned on perhaps with use of a timer

You can reach Miami Insurance Claims Lawyer J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo by dialing his direct number at (786) 272-5841, calling the main office at (305) 461-1095, or Toll Free at 1 (866) 71-CLAIM or email Attorney Gonzalez-Sirgo directly at [email protected].

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