Florida Finds No Coverage For Property Damage Caused By Neighbor’s Corpse.

On August 20, 2014, the Florida Court of Appeals refused to reconsider its decision in Rodrigo v. State Farm Florida Ins. Co., No. 4D12-3410 (Fla. App. 4th Dist. April 23, 2014), that the insured breached the policy by not submitting a sworn proof of loss and that damage from a decomposing corpse was not damage caused by an “explosion.” Rodrigo’s next door neighbor died in 2007 and the body decomposed before it was discovered. While decomposing, the body leaked fluids that penetrated Rodrigo’s unit purportedly causing damage to her walls and personal property. Rodrigo filed a claim under her homeowner’s policy issued by State Farm.

State Farm retained a contractor to inspect and appraise the damage. Following the appraisal, State Farm issued payment to Rodrigo for the damage to the structure. State Farm refused to pay for any damage to personal property. Rodrigo did not accept the payment and filed suit. State Farm moved for summary judgment on the issue of the personal property coverage. State Farm asserted that no personal property coverage was owed because Rodrigo violated a condition precedent to the policy by not submitting a sworn proof of loss and because a decomposing corpse is not a named peril under the policy. Rodrigo argued that State Farm waived the proof of loss condition by tendering payment. Rodrigo also contended that the decomposing corpse constitute an “explosion” which was a named period on the policy. In support, she submitted an affidavit from a doctor who opined that the internal organs of the neighbor’s corpse “explosively expanded and leaked.” The trial court granted summary judgment in State Farm’s favor on both issues.

The appellate court affirmed the trial court. On the proof of loss issue, the appellate court found that a proof of loss was a condition precedent to payment. The appellate court further explained that if the insured breaches the condition, then prejudice against the insurer will be presumed but may be rebutted. The appellate court found that even though Rodgrio submitted various estimates and invoices, because she did not submit the proof of loss she was not entitled to payment. The appellate court further concluded that Rodrigo offered no evidence to rebut the presumption of prejudice. Finally, the appellate court ruled that investigating a claim or tendering a payment as a means of negotiating the loss did not waive the sworn proof of loss requirement.

The appellate court also agreed with the trial court that a decomposing corpse did not constitute an “explosion,” a named peril under the policy. The appellate court found that the policy did not define the term “explosion;” therefore, the term should be given its plain meaning. The appellate court, while appreciating the novelty of the argument, nonetheless found that the plain meaning of explosion “does not include a decomposing body’s cells explosively expanding, causing leakage of bodily fluids.” Accordingly, it affirmed the trial court’s ruling in favor of State Farm.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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