Insurance doesn't cover St. Paul church’s structural issues found during storm repair: high court
The Supreme Court determined insurance does not cover structural damage that pre-existed other, newer damages caused by severe weather.
ST. PAUL — An insurance company is not required to cover repair costs of pre-existing structural damages to a St. Paul church discovered during repairs from a 2017 windstorm, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled.
The 25-page opinion that ruled 4-3 in favor of State Farm stems from the morning hours of June 11, 2017, when a line of severe thunderstorms raced across the southern half of Minnesota, bringing with it high winds and large hail.
Storm reports from the National Weather Service indicate hail as large as golf balls fell across much of the Twin Cities, as winds in the metro blew at 70 mph or stronger, snapping trees between six and 12 inches in diameter.
Structures weren’t immune from the storm’s impact, either.
St. Matthews Church of God and Christ, roughly 2 miles southwest of the Minnesota State Capitol, sustained more than $100,000 in damages, all of which was reimbursed by State Farm.
During the repair process, workers discovered cracks in the building’s masonry behind damaged drywall, and the city determined the structure wasn’t up to code.
“St. Matthews subsequently requested State Farm to pay the cost of bringing the masonry up to code. In response, State Farm hired a consultant to evaluate the damaged masonry and determine the cause of damage,” the Supreme Court’s opinion reads. “The consultant concluded that the ‘cracked and out-of-plumb condition … was a long-term condition unrelated to the storm.’”
Even before State Farm issued a letter to the church declining to cover damage to the masonry, St. Matthews filed a lawsuit, in which a district court ordered State Farm to appraise the damage, which it later valued just shy of $80,000. The appraisal made clear that the damages were not a result of the storm.
After the district court ruled in favor of State Farm, determining the insurance company must only reimburse the church for damages sustained as a direct result of the June 11, 2017, storm, St. Matthews appealed the case.
After an appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling, a second appeal was submitted and the Minnesota Supreme Court granted a review of the petition, and ultimately affirmed the lower courts’ decisions.
The opinion, penned by Justice Paul Thissen, found that because the masonry’s damage pre-dated the storm and no evidence was presented that the church was covered by State Farm at the time the structural damage occurred, that the insurer is not responsible for reimbursing repair costs, because the “damaged portion of the property” was strictly the drywall. Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea and Justices Barry Anderson and Gordon Moore joined Thissen in the majority opinion.
In a dissent, Justice Natalie Hudson countered Thissen, agreeing with St. Matthews’ argument that “a wall is a wall,” and that the insurer’s obligation to repair “the damaged portion of the property” would include the masonry behind the wall.
While Hudson wrote that the majority’s opinion regarding “the damaged portion of the property” is a reasonable interpretation of law, she argued that it should not be considered the only interpretation. Justices Margaret Chutich and Anne McKeig concurred with Hudson’s dissent.