Is Your Theft or Vandalism Loss Covered Under Your Homeowner's Insurance Policy?

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

In Florida, homeowner’s insurance policies that include vandalism and theft as covered perils are common. Of course, as is the case with all insurance contracts, the type of coverage you are afforded will depend on the specific language in your policy. While an insurance policy may cover one or both of these perils, generally, an insured must be able to demonstrate the requisite intent behind these acts. Thus, an act that is caused by a third party’s negligence will probably not be covered under either a vandalism claim or a theft claim because the third party did not possess the requisite state of mind to constitute vandalism. Similarly, if an individual mistakenly takes property from your home in the belief that the property belonged to them, it is unlikely that your claim will be considered theft under your homeowner’s insurance policy because the actor did not intend to commit a theft.

How do you recover on a theft claim?

Although the type of intent that must be shown will depend on the language of your specific policy, typically an insured will not be required to demonstrate criminal theft as a prerequisite to recover under a theft claim. Instead, the policyholder will usually have to show that the loss was caused by an individual that intended to permanently deprive the owner of his or her covered property. In the insurance context (i.e. civil cases), the insured will only have to demonstrate theft by the “greater weight of the evidence,” a much lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applicable in criminal cases.

Although this may be oversimplifying things a bit, in many cases the insured will not have a problem demonstrating the requisite mental state. For instance, theft is often readily apparent, and many times will be followed by a police report corroborating the incident. In these cases, a homeowner with theft coverage likely will not have a problem demonstrating the requisite intent behind the incident. On the other hand, a policyholder may believe that a theft occurred but may not specifically know when or how it occurred. In these cases, whether the property is lost or stolen is a central concern for the insured as well as the insurer. However, some policies include language that allows an insured to recover under a theft claim if the property has mysteriously disappeared. Under these types of policies, the insured may not have to demonstrate that the property was taken with the intent to deprive the insured of her property because these provisions essentially create a presumption that the property that mysteriously went missing was actually stolen. For obvious reasons, under these policies recovery is much more likely.

How do you recover on a vandalism claim?

Homeowner’s policies that include vandalism or criminal mischief as covered perils typically require that the insured demonstrate another individual’s intent to destroy or deface the policyholder’s property. Again, in many instances vandalism will be readily apparent and easily demonstrated. For example, a homeowner that discovers their property has been spray painted in the middle of the night should have no problem recovering under a vandalism claim. However, often the difference between an intent to vandalize and mere negligence can be difficult to determine. Picture a situation where a homeowner discovers a baseball has come crashing through her window. Absent any additional evidence, it would be difficult to demonstrate whether the incident was the result of an accident or an intentional act. Vandalism is a broad term, encompassing many different acts. Indeed, a recent Florida court decision states that arson is a form of vandalism, and an insurance policy that specifically excludes vandalism as a covered peril necessarily excluded arson as well.

What if you have been the victim of both theft and vandalism?

Occasionally vandalism claims and theft claims share some factual overlap. For instance, if a burglar breaks a window to gain access to someone’s home, this incident may give rise to a theft claim for the value of the property stolen as well as a vandalism claim for the value of the property damaged. However, an insured’s right to recover will generally still depend on the intent behind the act as well as the type of coverage afforded by your policy. Under similar facts, a Florida court held that if the claimant’s policy includes vandalism as a covered peril, but excludes theft, the insurer will only be liable to cover the damages to the structure (i.e. the broken window) but will not be liable for the stolen property. Likewise, if the policy includes theft as a covered peril, but excludes vandalism, some Florida courts hold that the insurer will only be liable for the stolen property, but not for the property that was damaged in furtherance of the theft.

To determine your rights under your insurance contract it is always necessary to evaluate your specific policy. If you are met with friction by your insurance company, you should not hesitate to contact an experienced insurance claims attorney to assist you through the claims process.

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].

Sources

Botee v. Southern Fidelity Ins. Co., 162 So.3d 183 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015).

Allstate Ins. Co. v. Coin-O-Mat, Inc., 202 So. 2d 598 (Fla 1st DCA 1967).

Gen. Star Indem. Co. v. Zelonker, 769 So. 2d 1093 (Fla 3d DCA 2000).