SJC Clarifies Water Damage Exclusions in Homeowners Insurance Policies

The SJC confirmed this week what some homeowners have found out the hard way: homeowners insurance may not cover water damage caused by natural water sources.

In Boazova v. Safety Insurance Company, SJC-10908 (May 29, 2012), the Court ruled that a homeowner’s claim for water damage was excluded from insurance coverage because the damage was caused by “surface water” entering the house, rather than water leaking from a pipe inside the house.

During a kitchen renovation, the homeowner discovered extensive water damage to the wooden sill, floor joists, wall studs, and flooring of her home. Based on the undisputed facts of the case, the damage was caused by water seeping inside off a patio built directly against the house without a waterproofing barrier.

Although the homeowner’s policy covered losses caused by the hidden seepage of water, the policy also contained an exclusion for damage caused by various natural water sources, including “surface water.” The Court looked to a prior case and a few secondary sources to define “surface water” as:

“waters from rain, melting snow, springs, or seepage, or floods that lie or flow on the surface of the earth and naturally spread over the ground but do not form part of a natural watercourse or lake.”

Because the water damage in question was caused by surface water running off the patio, the Court ruled that the policy’s exclusion applied and the insurance company was justified in denying the homeowner’s claim.

The Court also reaffirmed the validity of an “anticoncurrent clause” in a homeowners policy, meaning that if an exclusion applies to a loss, the loss is excluded from coverage even if some other cause contributed to the loss.

Although not the most exciting reading material, it is a good idea to be familiar with your insurance policies – particularly the provisions on exclusions.

About Brian Falk

Brian is an attorney in Mirick O'Connell's Land Use and Environmental Law Group. In his municipal practice, he counsels towns and cities in all areas of municipal law. He also represents private clients in land use permitting matters and real estate transactions. Brian lives in Milford with his wife and three sons.
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