Despite Daily Visits, Home Considered Vacant for Vandalism Exclusion

New London County Mut. Ins. Co. v. Zachem 145 Conn. App. 160 (Conn. App. Ct. 2013)

The plaintiff insurance company sought a declaratory judgment to determine whether it had a duty to provide coverage under an insurance policy issued to the defendants for a claimed loss arising from an explosion and fire that destroyed a house they owned on September 8, 2008. No one had resided at the house since July, 2007, and an intruder broke into the house and removed a copper propane gas line, which led to the explosion and fire. The defendants filed a claim for coverage of their loss and the plaintiff claimed that it was not liable because the defendants’ loss was excluded from coverage under a vandalism exception in the policy, which provided that the plaintiff did not insure loss caused by vandalism if the dwelling had been vacant for more than thirty consecutive days immediately before the loss. The trial court agreed, finding that the defendants’ loss fell within the vandalism exception of the policy. On appeal, the court took the opportunity to address the term “vacant” in the context of the vandalism exception and held that the defendants could not prevail on their claim because the term was not ambiguous and only had one logical meaning. Indeed, the court looked to dictionary definitions and noted that a vacant dwelling is one that is unoccupied and does not contain items ordinarily associate with habitation like furniture, fixtures or personal property. In addition, the fact that a relative of the defendants made daily visits to a detached garage on the property to do remodeling work and to conduct maintenance activities was not relevant to a consideration of whether the dwelling was vacant, as the vandalism exception in the policy clearly applied if the “dwelling” has been vacant, not the premises. “Dwelling” was described in the policy as the structure used principally for dwelling, meaning the house and any attached structures. The relatives visits to the garage were insufficient to overcome the finding of vacancy.

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