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Appeals court rules church entitled to hurricane damage coverage

Posted On: Apr. 13, 2023 1:41 PM CST


A federal appeals court on Thursday reversed a lower court and held that a Florida church is entitled to coverage for roof damage incurred in two hurricanes because of the policy language, despite the parties’ apparent intent.

Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017 tore through Melbourne, Florida, peeling back Shiloh Christian Center’s roof and allowing rain to soak the exposed structure, according to the ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in Shiloh Christian Center vs. Aspen Specialty Insurance Co.

In 2015, Shiloh had specifically asked Aspen to stop covering named windstorm-related losses, which included hurricane losses. Aspen agreed, but its 2016 policy did not contain the exclusion.

Similarly, in 2017, Shiloh’s policy application asked that windstorms be excluded, but a named windstorm exclusion was not listed in its policy.

Shiloh sued Aspen in U.S. District Court in Orlando, seeking coverage for the hurricanes’ damage. The district court ruled in the insurer’s favor and was overturned by a three-judge appeals court panel.

“The cardinal principle is that a policy’s text is paramount,” the ruling said.

The later policy, like the earlier one, “contains a broad coverage clause and a detailed ‘exclusion’ provision that includes all manner of specific exclusions but, conspicuously, does not mention ‘Named Windstorms,’” the ruling said in reversing the lower court and remanding the case for further proceedings.

Shiloh attorney Matthew Stubble, of Stubble P.A. in Indialantic, Florida, said in a statement, “The Eleventh Circuit’s opinion affirmed the Church’s position that Aspen cannot deny a claim based on an exclusion it never included in the insurance policy that it issued to its insured.”

Aspen’s attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.