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Florida Court Upholds Policy Exclusion for Arson

Does a 'malicious mischief' homeowner's insurance policy exclusion include acts of intentional arson?

In many homeowner's policies there lies an important policy exclusion known as vandalism or 'malicious mischief' - which operates to exclude coverage for any damage caused by, as the name suggests, criminal offenses against property. Examples of non-covered acts in this category could include a rock thrown at a window, BB pellets shot through a garage door, or - more seriously - theft or larceny. Most times, this exclusion contains the caveat that the insured dwelling must have been unoccupied for a period of at least thirty (30) days prior to the incident, otherwise the insurer will likely cover the costs of the loss.

In one recent Florida case, a homeowner appealed her insurer's denial of coverage following the destruction of her property due to arson. According to the claims adjuster, the insured's property sat vacant for at least thirty (30) days prior to the intentional burning of the property, thereby triggering the policy exclusion. Immediately following the denial, the insured filed a petition for declaratory judgment to the state trial court, seeking clarification as to whether her malicious mischief exclusion would apply to her situation, which would result in a total loss of the property.

According to the insured's argument, the language of the policy was drafted too ambiguously to result in a loss of coverage. More specifically, the malicious mischief exclusion did not expressly list arson as an excludable event. The insured concluded that ambiguities in the language of the policy must be decided in favor of the policyholder.

However, the appellate court held the opposite, resorting to the English dictionary for the definition of 'malicious' and 'mischief,' which it held to encompass an intentional act of arson. In sum, the court held that the policy clearly and unambiguously included arson in its malicious mischief policy exclusion, even if the word "arson" was not specifically listed.

If you are experiencing difficulty with your homeowner's insurance policy provider and would like to discuss your options, please contact Pekar Law, P.A. Jeff Pekar is admitted to practice in all Florida state courts as well as federal courts and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He has the knowledge and tenacity to effectively represent you in property insurance claims. Contact him today at (813)712-8762 for a free initial consultation.

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