An appeals court ruled that a property insurer had to cover damage caused by nearby rock blasting. The insurer said it was uncovered “earth movement.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An appeals court Wednesday upheld a ruling that required a property-insurance company to cover damage that the owners of a Miami-Dade County home said was caused by blasting at a nearby rock quarry.
A three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal rejected arguments by Tower Hill Prime Insurance Co. that 2016 damage to the home of Ivet and Mario Bermudez was excluded from coverage under their policy.
Tower Hill went to the appeals court after a jury last year said the insurer was responsible for paying $62,000 to cover damage, such as cracks in the home, according to the verdict.
The homeowners filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit, arguing the damage was caused by vibrations from blasting at the rock quarry, while Tower Hill said it was caused by earth movement. Tower Hill pointed to part of the policy that excluded coverage for earth movement.
“The damage is not covered because the subject policy contains an exclusion for damage caused by earth movement,” Tower Hill argued in a motion for summary judgment filed in 2020 in Miami-Dade County circuit court. “Even if the damage at plaintiffs’ property was the result of nearby blasting activities, the damage was caused by earth movement. Accordingly, plaintiffs are not entitled to coverage under the insurance policy.”
But the appeals court said the “trial came down to a so-called ‘battle of the experts’,” and that an expert for the homeowners was “steadfast in his opinion that none of the damage to the insured’s home resulted from soil movement or earth movement, but was instead the result of shock waves from the blasting that caused the house to shake.”
“Based upon the competing expert testimony, the jury could reasonably have concluded that it was the shock waves, and not soil or earth movement, that shook the house and caused damage to the Insured’s home,” said Wednesday’s 11-page decision written by Judge Kevin Emas and joined by Judges Ivan Fernandez and Alexander Bokor.
Wednesday’s decision did not provide extensive details about damage to the home. But the 2020 summary-judgment motion filed by Tower Hill indicated the homeowners said they found cracks in ceiling and floor areas, the driveway and a pool wall.
The appeals court said the trial focused on “the narrow issue of whether the cause of damage to the insured’s home was excluded from or not covered under the policy.” After the jury ruled for the Bermudezes, Circuit Judge William Thomas denied a request by Tower Hill for what is known as a “directed verdict” in favor of the insurer, according to court documents.
Pointing to the conflicting expert testimony, the appeals court said the circuit judge “properly denied Tower Hill’s motions for directed verdict, new trial and judgment.”
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