Colodny Fass Shareholder Amy L. Koltnow Obtains Significant Appellate Victory Enforcing Anti-Concurrent Causation Language in Homeowner’s Policy
May 15, 2020
Colodny Fass shareholder Amy Koltnow obtained a significant victory for insurers in Security First Insurance Company v. John Czelusniak, wherein the Third District Court of Appeal upheld the validity of anti-concurrent causation language in the policy. The case concerns water that entered the insured’s home through the walls, windows and doors resulting in interior damage. The policy expressly excluded water entering through walls and windows, but did not explicitly exclude water entering in through the door.
Following the close of evidence at trial, the trial judge entered a directed verdict in favor of the homeowner finding as a matter of law that since there was more than one cause of the water damage, which combined to create the damage, the “concurrent-cause doctrine” set forth in Sebo v. American Home Assurance Co., Inc., 208 So. 3d 694 (Fla. 2016) applied, rendering all water damages covered under the policy. The judge reasoned that the jury would be unable to separate the water that came in through the door (non-excluded cause) from the water that came in through the walls and windows (excluded causes).
In a clear and concise opinion, the appellate court not only held that the trial judge’s ruling was directly contrary to the policy’s anti-concurrent cause provision but it issued a mandate requiring the trial judge enter judgment in favor of Security First.
In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court held in Sebo that where two or more perils combine to cause a loss, the “concurrent cause doctrine” applied and the entire loss would be covered by an all-risk policy even if one of the causes is excluded from coverage. Sebo was hailed as a victory for Florida homeowners and served to broaden coverage for all property damage caused by multiple perils even when one or more perils were expressly excluded under the policy. The policy in Sebo, however, did not contain an anti-concurrent cause provision.
Here, Security First had anti-concurrent cause language in its policy. Once it was established by the undisputed evidence that an expressly excluded peril caused water damage to the residence, all damages were excluded regardless of any other cause or event contributing concurrently or in any sequence to the loss.
Anti-concurrent causation language may well provide relief for Florida insurers facing “combined peril” claims. However, not every exclusion can be accompanied by an anti-concurrent causation clause. The anti-concurrent causation clause is typically included as part of only a small number of exclusions. Insurers should review their policies carefully to ensure they have a properly drafted anti-concurrent cause language to better manage the risk of loss.
Read the court’s opinion here. This opinion is not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.