The Insurance Coverage Law Information Center
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The Appellate Court’s Decision
The appellate court upheld the trial court’s policy analysis.
In its decision, the appellat...
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NY Appeals Court Finds Ambiguity as to Losses Resulting from Backup or Overflow from Sewers, Drains, or Plumbing Systems

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In an issue of apparent first impression in New York, an appellate court has found that an ambiguity existed in an
insurance policy as to losses resulting from a backup and/or overflow from sewers, drains, and/or plumbing systems.

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NY Appeals Court Finds Ambiguity as to Losses Resulting from Backup or Overflow from Sewers, Drains, or Plumbing Systems

  1. 1. The Insurance Coverage Law Information Center The following article is from National Underwriter’s latest online resource, FC&S Legal: The Insurance Coverage Law Information Center. NEW YORK APPEALS COURT FINDS AMBIGUITY AS TO LOSSES RESULTING FROM BACKUP OR OVERFLOW FROM SEWERS, DRAINS, OR PLUMBING SYSTEMS May 20, 2014 Steven A. Meyerowitz, Esq., Director, FC&S Legal In an issue of apparent first impression in New York, an appellate court has found that an ambiguity existed in an insurance policy as to losses resulting from a backup and/or overflow from sewers, drains, and/or plumbing systems. The Case The plaintiff in this case owned a four building apartment complex that was covered by an insurance policy issued by Dryden Mutual Insurance Company. While the policy was in effect, two of the buildings sustained substantial water damage when waste water entered the first floor apartments through, among other things, toilets, bathtubs, and condensation drains. The plaintiff filed a property loss notice but Dryden disclaimed coverage on the basis that the loss fell within multiple exclusions in the policy. The plaintiff thereafter submitted a sworn statement in proof of loss prepared by the plaintiff’s adjuster, contending that the cause of the loss – specifically, “[a]ccidental [o]verflow/[d]ischarge of a [p]lumbing [s]ystem” – was covered under the policy; Dryden again disclaimed coverage. The plaintiff sued for breach of contract and for a declaration that the loss was covered under the terms of the policy. Following joinder of issue and discovery, the plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment on liability and Dryden cross-moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion, finding that water damage exclusions were ambiguous and should be reconciled so that they applied to a backup that originated off an insured’s property (i.e., in a municipal sewer or drain) but not to an occurrence originating within the insured’s property (i.e., in a property owner’s plumbing system). The trial court then declared that the loss was covered under the policy and denied Dryden’s cross motion. Dryden appealed. The Policy The policy’s “Water Damage” exclusion applied to a loss caused by: water which backs up through sewers or drains. A second exclusion, also entitled “Water Damage,” provided that there was no coverage: for loss caused by repeated or continuous discharge, or leakage of liquids or steam from within a plumbing ... system. This second exclusion also provided (the “coverage provision”) that the policy covered: loss caused by the accidental leakage, overflow or discharge of liquids or steam from a plumbing ... system. Call 1-800-543-0874 | Email customerservice@SummitProNets.com | www.fcandslegal.com
  2. 2. The Appellate Court’s Decision The appellate court upheld the trial court’s policy analysis. In its decision, the appellate court pointed out that the policy did not define the terms sewer, drain, plumbing system, backup, or overflow. It explained that when the exclusion and coverage provision were read together, an ambiguity existed in the insurance policy as to losses resulting from a backup and/or overflow from sewers, drains, and/or plumbing systems. Observing that the resolution of this ambiguity appeared to be an issue of first impression in New York, the appellate court then upheld the trial court’s analysis – that a plumbing system, as referenced in the coverage provision, included drains that were on the insured’s property. In short, the appellate court declared: water damage caused by a backup/overflow that originates from a pipe or clogged drain located within the insured’s property line comes from the insured’s plumbing system and is covered by the policy; conversely, if the cause of the backup/overflow is from outside the insured’s property boundaries—such as a clogged municipal sewer that forces water from outside the insured’s plumbing system to overflow—the sewer or drain exclusion is applicable. The case is Pichel v. Dryden Mutual Ins. Co., No. 517551 (N.Y. App.Div. 3d Dep’t May 15, 2014). Attorneys involved include: Levene Gouldin & Thompson, LLP, Binghamton (Lauren A. Saleeby of counsel), for appellant; Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC, Syracuse (Katie I. Reid of counsel), for respondent. FC&S Legal Comment The appellate court’s policy analysis in this case is consistent with decisions in other jurisdictions that have interpreted the interplay of similar competing provisions. See, e.g., Jackson v. American Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 299 F.Supp. 151 (M.D.N.C. 1968], affd 410 F.2d 395 (4th Cir. 1969); Cheetham v. Southern Oak Ins. Co., 114 So. 3d 257 (Fla. 2013), review denied 129 So. 3d 1069 (2013); Kozlowski v. Penn Mut. Ins. Co., 295 Pa Super 141 [1982]; Haines v. United Sec. Ins. Co., 43 Colo. App. 276 (1979); Hallsted v. Blue Mtn. Convalescent Ctr., Inc., 23 Wash. App. 349 (1979), review denied 92 Wash.2d 1023 (1979). Call 1-800-543-0874 | Email customerservice@SummitProNets.com | www.fcandslegal.com
  3. 3. Call 1-800-543-0874 | Email customerservice@SummitProNets.com | www.fcandslegal.com Copyright © 2014 The National Underwriter Company. All Rights Reserved. NOTE: The content posted to this account from FC&S Legal: The Insurance Coverage Law Information Center is current to the date of its initial publication. There may have been further developments of the issues discussed since the original publication. This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional service. If legal advice is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. For more information, or to begin your free trial: • Call: 1-800-543-0874 • Email: customerservice@SummitProNets.com • Online: www.fcandslegal.com FC&S Legal guarantees you instant access to the most authoritative and comprehensive insurance coverage law information available today. This powerful, up-to-the-minute online resource enables you to stay apprised of the latest developments through your desktop, laptop, tablet, or smart phone —whenever and wherever you need it.

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