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Holmes v. Safeco Insurance Company of America

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 21, 2017

OLIVER HOLMES ET AL.
v.
SAFECO INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA

          Argued September 15, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven, Wilson, J.

          H. Scott Williams, with whom was Edwin L. Doernb-erger, for the appellant (plaintiffs).

          Philip T. Newbury, Jr., for the appellee (defendant).

          Beach, Sheldon and Gruendel, Js. [*]

          OPINION

          SHELDON, J.

         The plaintiffs, Oliver Holmes and Hannah Sokol-Holmes, appeal from the summary judgment rendered in favor of the defendant, Safeco Insurance Company of America, on the plaintiffs' claim for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in connection with the defendant's failure and refusal to pay their claim for coverage under their homeowners' insurance policy with the defendant for losses due to ice damming on their property in February of 2011. The court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiffs failed to commence an action within one year of the reported date of loss, as required by the time limitation provision of the subject homeowners' insurance policy. On appeal, the plaintiffs argue, as they did before the trial court, that the one year time limitation provision of their policy was superseded as a matter of law by the eighteen month limitation provision of Connecticut's standard fire insurance policy, as set forth in General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 38a-307, [1" name="FN1" id="FN1">1]because the scope of coverage under their homeowners' policy extended to losses caused by fire, which are governed by that statute. For the following reasons, we agree with the trial court that that claim must be rejected in this case, which does not arise from or concern a fire loss, and thus that the court's judgment for the defendant must be affirmed.[2]

         The trial court set forth the following relevant facts. ‘‘The plaintiffs are owners of [residential] property located in New Haven. . . . The defendant is a New Hampshire corporation with a principal place of business located in Boston, Massachusetts. The plaintiffs purchased a homeowners' insurance policy from the defendant that was effective from July 12, 2010 through July 12, 2011, which insured their New Haven property. The policy insured the residence and personal property located at the residence, and provided replacement cost coverage for damage to the dwelling up to a limit of $685, 000, and for damages to personal property up to $479, 850. Throughout December, 2010, and through February, 2011, significant snow and ice storms occurred throughout New Haven. During those storms, heavy amounts of snow and ice caused damage to the roofing and exterior walls of the property, resulting in damage to the property and the contents within.

         ‘‘The plaintiffs notified the defendant of the damage to the property on or about June 17, 2011, with a date of loss of February 15, 2011. The defendant inspected the property on June 26, 2011, and issued $9633.10 to the plaintiffs following its determination of the loss that was covered under the policy. On or about July 21, 2011, the plaintiffs obtained an estimate from a contractor for the cost to repair the damage to the home, which the contractor determined to be $271, 302.79. The plaintiffs provided additional information, including the estimate, to the defendant. On August 4, 2011, the defendant responded to the estimate, and informed the plaintiffs that it would send a field specialist and an engineer to inspect and reevaluate the damage to the property. On August 11, 2011, the field specialist and engineer prepared separate investigations, and the engineer determined that the damage to the home was the result of long-term wear and tear, and was not the result of the weight of the snow and ice. On October 4, 2011, the defendant denied the plaintiffs' claim, indicating that the loss was not covered.

         ‘‘[The plaintiffs commenced this action on August 15, 2012, by service of process on the defendant . . . . On May 15, 2013, the plaintiffs filed a two count amended complaint, which sounds in breach of contract and breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing.] In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege the following. The additional property damage that occurred as a result of the storms was covered under the terms and conditions of the policy, and the defendant owed the plaintiffs a duty to provide coverage for accidental direct physical loss caused by the snow and ice. The defendant refused, neglected and/or failed to pay the full replacement costs of the plaintiffs' lost and damaged property, in breach of its obligations pursuant to the terms of the policy. Furthermore, [the plaintiffs allege that] by denying the claim, the defendant has breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing owed to the plaintiffs under the policy.''

         On December 18, 2013, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment in which it asserted, inter alia, that the plaintiffs' action is time-barred because it was not brought within one year of the date of loss as required by their policy. The plaintiffs opposed the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the ground that their action was not barred by the one-year time limitation set forth in their insurance policy because said policy affords coverage against the peril of fire, and is thus a fire insurance policy that is governed by § 38a-307, which affords an insured eighteen months to commence suit. The court heard oral argument on the defendant's motion on December 22, 2014.

         By way of memorandum of decision dated April 16, 2015, the court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiffs' action was subject to the one year time limitation set forth in their homeowners' insurance policy and they had failed to comply with that requirement. In so doing, the trial court explained, inter alia: ‘‘The defendant . . . argues that the plaintiffs' action is time-barred because the policy requires that suit be commenced within one year of the date of loss, the loss here occurred on February 15, 2011, and the plaintiffs did not commence the action until August 15, 2012. The defendant cites the ‘Suit Against Us' provision in the plaintiffs' policy which reads: ‘No action shall be brought against us unless there has been compliance with the policy provisions and the action is started within one year after the loss or damage.'

         ‘‘The plaintiffs counter that their action was timely filed because it was brought within the eighteen month suit limitations period mandated by . . . § 38a-307, the Standard Form Fire Policy Statute, as it existed at the time the plaintiffs' policy was in effect. Specifically, the plaintiffs argue that the defendant must conform to all provisions, stipulations, and conditions set forth in General Statutes [Rev. to 2011] §§ 38a-307 and 38a-308.

         ‘‘The defendant argues in reply that the eighteen month suit limitations period mandated in § 38a-307 applies to standard form fire insurance policies and the plaintiffs' policy is not a fire policy, but rather an ‘all-risk policy' that includes coverage for loss resulting from various perils including fire. The defendant points out that § 38a-308 (b) was amended [by No. 12-162, § 3, of the 2012 Public Acts effective] July 1, 2012, to extend the eighteen month suit limitations period mandated in ยง 38a-307 to other losses besides fire which is ...


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