An Illinois appellate court recently held that insurance coverage for wrongful eviction claims, typically part of “personal and advertising injury” provided by Coverage B in CGL policies, includes coverage for property damage as a result of the eviction, not just physical harm to a person.
The insured property owners leased commercial space to a tenant who worked as an architect, painter, and sculptor. The tenant used the space as a rent storage and work space. During the lease term, the owners sold the space and, thereafter, removed the tenant’s personal items, including his artwork. The tenant sued the property owners, alleging a violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, conversion, and a violation of the Illinois Forcible Entry and Detainer Act.
The property owners tendered their defense and indemnity to their liability insurer, which denied coverage. On appeal in the ensuing declaratory judgment action, the court held that the insurer was obligated to defend the property owners because the policy covered “personal and advertising injury,” the definition of which included “the wrongful eviction from…a room, dwelling or premises that a person occupies, committed by or on behalf of its owner, landlord or lessor.” In so ruling, the court rejected the insurer’s argument that “personal and advertising injury” coverage is limited to physical harm to a person and does not cover property damage. The court held that if the parties intended to limit the commonly understood definition of “eviction” to include only wrongfully evicting a person and not property, they could have added express language in the policy to reflect that intent.
For a copy of the decision, click here.