The Case of the Claim for the Exploding Corpse
It should not be surprising that claims are reported in Florida on a fairly regular basis for damages to insured property resulting from decay, odor, and clean-up following an unattended death. Florida was once known as heaven’s waiting room given all the elderly folks who came here to die or to be more polite, to retire and then die.
With all the condos housing these folks and families up north saving for their ticket to the sunshine state, the result is a lot of elderly citizens alone in their condos. Many pass away without friends or family knowing about their passing until the tell-tale signs begins to flow to neighboring units.
Over the years, our office has had a number of calls from condo managers, family, and restoration companies looking for help to find coverage for the clean-up of the mess left from a decomposing corpse.
Not surprisingly, the insurance industry is not very accommodating given the cost involved. In fact, we have seen a mix bag on the position various insurers take on this type of claim.
The pollution exclusion seems to be one that is often used as the odor and body fluids seem to fit their definition of pollution. I am not sure if the courts have ruled on this issue (body decay odor and fluids as a pollutant), but I know some carriers have denied coverage based on this. In one recent case a carrier paid to gut a condo unit to remove all odors and fluids.
Let’s get back to the exploding corpse case. This was a real case that was recently ruled on in the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals. The case involved a policyholder’s neighbor who died in a condo. The unattended corpse excreted body fluids and an odor.
The insured filed a first party claim with their insurance company and some payment was offered for presumably the building cleanup portion of the loss. From reading the case, there was a loss to the personal property which was denied because the property is only covered if a named peril cause of loss actually caused the loss.
Without getting into much of the details of the matter, the case (Judy Rodrigo Appellant vs. State Farm Insurance Company Appellee No 4D12-3410 April 23 2014) ended up in the 4th DCA. The policyholder’s argument was that during the decomposing process, the corpse exploded. Since explosion was a named peril in the policy for personal property coverage, the insured argued she should be given coverage.
The court disagreed saying the man on the street test of the term explosion does not include a decomposing body. What’s perhaps more troubling is the fact that the court said the insured failed to file a proof of loss within 60 days of the loss which was required in the policy. While I have not read the policy at issue in this case, it has been the policy in Florida that a proof of loss is not required unless the insurance company demands one, AND then you have 60 days to comply.
Remember folks, the devil is in the details.
Read details about the insurance claim and the court decision here.
If you have questions regarding any property insurance claim related issues please call 800.321.4488 or contact us to submit a question to one of our public adjuster insurance claim experts.