INSURANCE-HOMEOWNERS-EXCLUSION-SEWAGE BACKUP

May 31st, 2017 by Rieders Travis in Insurance

Windows v. Erie Ins. Exch., 2017 Pa. Super. LEXIS 309 (May 1, 2017) Moulton, J.  Erie Insurance Exchange (“Erie”) appeals from the February 24, 2016 judgment entered in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in favor of Howard Windows, Jr. and Eleanor Windows (“Homeowners”). We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

This matter arises from Erie’s denial of an insurance claim made by the Homeowners following the infiltration of raw sewage into their home in May 2012. Erie denied the claim, and on May 2, 2013, the Homeowners filed a complaint, alleging that Erie breached its policy. On March 9, 2015, Erie filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the policy’s “general exclusion for water damage unambiguously excludes coverage for the Homeowners’ losses because the back up of raw sewage and water through the Warner Alley sewer system and the drain in the Homeowners’ basement contributed to their losses.”

On summary judgment, Erie argued that the water damage exclusion unambiguously precluded coverage for the Homeowners’ losses.  We disagree.

Here, the water-damage exclusion in the Homeowners’ insurance policy provides that losses caused by “water or sewage which backs up through sewers and drains” are excluded from coverage. The policy does not define the term “backs up.”

Based on the language of the Erie policy, and on the limited case law interpreting similar language, we conclude that the water-damage exclusion is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. Because the provision is ambiguous, Erie failed to meet its burden at summary judgment of proving that the Homeowners’ loss was necessarily excluded.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]

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