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A federal court in New Jersey ruled that an insurance company had no obligation to cover the damages suffered by a hair salon as a result of a thunderstorm in Princeton that had made drop five to seven inches of rain in two hours.

L & # 39; s case

On July 30, 2016, a violent thunderstorm, which would be a storm of 200 to 500 years, resulted in about five to seven inches of rain in less than two hours in Princeton, New Jersey. As a result, water was accumulating at the bottom of the stairwell, next to the entrance to the ground floor of a beauty salon, located below the street level. The living room was accessible through a glass door.

Water was flowing through the glass door, damaging the building.

The day after the storm, Tere Villamil phoned his insurance company, Sentinel Insurance Company Limited, to report an insurance claim and provided the following explanations to a representative:

"data-reactid =" 11 ">This story is reproduced with the permission of FC & S Legal, the industry's only comprehensive digital resource designed for insurance law professionals. Visit the site to subscribe.

A federal court in New Jersey ruled that an insurance company had no obligation to cover the damages suffered by a hair salon as a result of a thunderstorm in Princeton that had made drop five to seven inches of rain in two hours.

L & # 39; s case

On July 30, 2016, a violent thunderstorm, which would be a storm of 200 to 500 years, resulted in about five to seven inches of rain in less than two hours in Princeton, New Jersey. As a result, water was accumulating at the bottom of the stairwell, next to the entrance to the ground floor of a beauty salon, located below the street level. The living room was accessible through a glass door.

Water was flowing through the glass door, damaging the building.

The day after the storm, Tere Villamil phoned his insurance company, Sentinel Insurance Company Limited, to report an insurance claim and provided the following explanations to a representative:

That's Christina, how can I help you?

Tere Villamil: Hello, yes, it's Tere Villamil, I'm calling from La Jolie Salon & Spa in Princeton, um, we had a flood at our lower level yesterday which was pretty awful. I will send you a video. Uh, and the first floor has been damaged from the business and I have to make a claim. I have also submitted a claim to the owner.

Christina: New Jersey, agree. And when does this flood occur?

Tere Villamil: Yesterday. We were there all day trying to clean everything up. I sent e-mail and a notification to my agent, but I was cleaning up, so I never called you. I first called the owner.

Christina: Oh, okay.

Tere Villamil: Yesterday we had two hours of extreme rain, it was incredible.

Christina: Ok, thank you very much. And you said it was a flood, is not it?

Tere Villamil: Yes, the water arrived in 15 minutes, she came in and flooded the whole lower level.

Christina: Oh, it's not bad, ok.

Tere Villamil: Yeah. He went through the door, he just infiltrated through the door. And if you could send me an email, I have videos and photos of the whole incident.

Christina: Ok, and just to check, I'm really sorry, did you have separate flood insurance too?

Tere Villamil: Uh, I do not believe it because we never had a flood there. So, I do not know if the owner knows it, but I have no flood insurance.

Sentinel rejected the show's insurance claim, saying that "the cause of the loss was a flood," which was not covered by the police or police change agreement.

Ms. Villamil sued Sentinel, who sought summary judgment. The insurer said heavy rains had flooded areas of Princeton, including the location of the lounge. She claimed that the floodwater ran down the sidewalk and accumulated at the bottom of the stairwell leading to the lower level before entering the building through the glass door, despite the efforts of the living room to block it with bags garbage partially filled from inside the building. building.

On the other hand, the show argued that the water entering through the lower level of the building did not constitute flood water. On the contrary, the show maintained that as a result of the storm, water had accumulated on the roof of the building and had entered the drainage system of the building. The high volume of water that entered the building's drainage system created an "overpressure" and as a result, this water was "ejected" by the many sinks in the living room and the toilets and drains in the living room.

According to the show, this water also accumulated at the bottom of the salon's stairwell, unlike the floodwaters coming from the street, entered the building and caused the damage.

The sentinel policy

The Sentinel police excluded coverage for damages or losses resulting from:

flood, including the accumulation of surface water

An agreement amending the policy provided:

The following additional coverage is added:

We will assume the direct or material damage to property covered only by water that runs out of sewers or drains. This coverage is included in the insurance limits of the property covered.

THIS IS NOT AN INSURANCE AGAINST FLOODING

We will not pay for water or other materials that come up from sewers or drains when they are caused by a flood. This applies regardless of the proximity of the flood compared to the property covered. Floods include the accumulation of surface water, waves, tides, tidal waves, overflowing vapors or other bodies of water, or their spray, all wind-driven or non-windy. enter the sewer system.

The district court's decision

The court accepted Sentinel's motion.

In its decision, the district court explained that, in order for coverage to be ensured, the show must show that he had suffered damage "only"Water that has accumulated in sewers or sewers. In other words, sued the district court, the show had to show that the flood waters had not contributed to the damage that the building had caused.

The District Court then ruled that the expert opinions on which the salon was based did not 'rebut that the water that had accumulated at the bottom of the stairwell included at least water from surface which was subsequently entered into the premises by the glass door of the living room.

The district court pointed out that a salon expert had given an opinion on the cause of the water damage in an e-mail in three sentences stating:

The story continues

From my inspection of the site on August 10, 2016 and the photos you have shown me, it appears that the water damage in your building was not caused by floods in the street. From what you have described, the floor drain of your outdoor staircase appears to have failed, resulting in water infiltration into your building. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to call.

The District Court added that, in a statement, this expert had explained the opinion that he had given in his email:

Q: Okay and what was the cause of the flood, based on your understanding and the limited information you had?

A: It seems like it's one – a clogged or too small drain in the stairwell.

Q: Have you ever been able to determine if the drain was clogged?

A: no

Q: Now this drain in the stairwell, do you know where it leads?

A: no

Q: okay Was this another possibility – and tell me if you have not thought about it or not, you know, let me know – the fact that the flood was – in this – well, in this area, this staircase was caused by the rain that overwhelmed the capacity of the pipe?

A: yes It's – I said that.

In summary, the District Court stated that this expert was of the opinion that water was accumulating at the bottom of the stairwell because the intensity of the rain caused the drain to be blocked and shut down. operation. Moreover, his explanations corroborated the fact that the rain had also accumulated at the base of the stairwell, unlike the water flowing from the roof, contrary to the position of the living room that the accumulated water came only from the roof by the emergency drain.

The district court also cited the following part of the testimony of this expert:

Q: Let me ask you another question. When it rains, does it rain in this area by the descending stairwell that leads to the entrance to the lower level of the living room?

A: Yes, it would rain in this area because the opening that creates the stairwell allowed water to enter this area.

Q: agree You do not say that there is no water from this rain that has entered this drain at this lower level. . . right? You do not say that?

A: I say that the water accumulated residues in the pipeline, which caused a reported level. . like 2 feet.

Q: I understand.

A: In addition, the water that rose from the sky landed above this backup water, increasing this level.

The District Court then concluded that this expert was of the opinion that the water accumulated at the bottom of the stairwell consisted at least of water spouting from the lower level drain and rainwater falling directly into this zone. .

The district court added that a public insurance expert had similarly explained that the cause of the loss was due to a blockage of the drain system:

The water that damages the space occupied by your customer comes from the reverse flow under pressure due to a blockage of the drainage system. The building has a combined plumbing system that receives rainwater and sewage, and is pumped into the city's sewage system. The pumps were actively trying to pump water into the sewers until an overpressure occurred and the water returned in the opposite direction.

According to the adjuster, the damage was caused, at least in part, by an overpressure of the drainage system.

The District Court then found that, drawing all the favorable conclusions of the expert opinions, it was appropriate to record a summary judgment in favor of Sentinel. The district court found that, to the extent that the water from the roof of the building could be described as non-floodable water and that part of that water ended up in water. accumulating at the bottom of the stairwell, the salon experts were either silent on the issue, or admitted that the water that had accumulated in this area included floodwaters.

The district court pointed out that, as defined in the policy, the floods included "surface water accumulation", defined by the case law, "the waters at the surface of the soil, usually created by the rain or snow, which is of an occasional or vagabond nature, following no definite route and having no substantial or permanent existence. "

The District Court added that it was not disputed that the stairwell leading to the entrance on the ground floor of the building was not covered by a roof and was subject to direct penetration. of rain, snow and all other elements, such as the storm that occurred on July 30, 2016. In addition, said the district court, the intense rain – falling at a rate of about five to seven inches in the space of two hours – landed on the steps and the area at the bottom of the stairwell and became a surface water.

According to the district court, even if it assumed that the non-flood water was rising from the lower level drain, the water that eventually entered the building "also included an accumulation of floodwater." . does not support the fact that the damage to the living room is the result of water accumulation without flooding.

The case is Villamil c. Sentinel Ins. Co., N ° 17-1566 (FLW) (D.N.J., Dec. 21, 2018). The lawyers involved include: For TERE VILLAMIL, VILLA COMPONETES, INC., Doing Business Under the Name, LA JOLIE SALON AND SPA, Applicants: LIBERATO P. VERDERAME, LAWYER, EDELSON & ASSOCIATES, NEWTOWN, PA. Defendants: DAVID D. BLAKE, III, MAIN PROSECUTOR, MARSHALL, DENNEHEY, WARNER, COLEMAN & GOGGIN, Mount Laurel, NJ. For SENTINEL INSURANCE COMPANY, LIMITED, LIMITED

Steven A. Meyerowitz, Esq., is the director of FC & S Legal, the editor-in-chief of Report on insurance lawand the founder and president of Meyerowitz Communications Inc. FC & S Legal Director, Mr Meyerowitz, a member of the team who conceptualized FC & S Legal, provides daily analysis and commentary on the most important court decisions on insurance coverage, as well as news on legislative and regulatory developments. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Mr. Meyerowitz was a lawyer at a leading Wall Street law firm before founding Meyerowitz Communications Inc., a commercial communications consulting firm.