Policyholder Question on Property Vandalism & Theft
Q. My vacant property was vandalized (electrical, plumbing, bath & kitchen fixtures were destroyed). The insurance company denied my claim for vandalism as they considered theft was involved. Vandalism is a covered peril, theft is not. The definition of vandalism is not absolute (there are five to seven forms of vandalism, depending on the authority) and, there is no definition of theft given in the policy (nor will any representative provide one). One form of vandalism is that of acquisitive vandalism. Clearly when the value of the property damages exceeds 100 times the value of the petty theft, there would be a case for this form of vandalism. In this case the property damage estimate was $25,000 and the estimated value of the scrap wire and used fixtures was $200. Can a claim be successful based on the assertion that, barring a specific exclusion for acquisitive vandalism, the incident was in fact vandalism?
A. I did a quick search of internet sites that have posted blogs and court opinions with cases like yours. It looks like you may have a difficult time prevailing given the exclusion for theft. While you did not specifically say if the electrical, plumbing, bath & kitchen fixtures were stolen, I assume they were and this was the reason the loss occurred which also resulted in structual damage. If vandals broke in and just vandalized the structure without stealing anything, you may have a better chance of getting coverage. Most likely if you litigate this, the court will look at the language in your policy and if the terms,definitions, etc. are not ambiguous, they will go by the plain meaning of the words as defined in a dictionary. As always, when fact and coverage issues are involved you may want to get a legal opinion to see how the state courts in your jurisdiction have addressed this type of claim.
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