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Lawskills.com Georgia Caselaw
SUN INSURANCE OFFICE, LTD. et al. v. GUEST CAMERA STORE, INC. et al.
40207.
Action on insurance policies. Clarke Superior Court. Before Judge Hicks, Emeritus.
BELL, Judge.
1. These cases are ones which may be brought to this court by a joint bill of exceptions.
2. It is the law of this State that where, as here, a building containing property insured against damage by windstorm has its roof opened by the wind projecting some object against the roof so as to permit the entry of rain which damages the property, the resulting damage is caused by the direct force of the wind and comes within the coverage of the policy.
3. The evidence supported the verdict.
The plaintiffs filed suit on four fire and extended coverage insurance policies issued by the defendant insurance companies on the contents of a building at 133 W. Clayton Street, Athens, Georgia, occupied by plaintiffs Guest Camera Store, Inc. and Guest Printing Company, Inc. Plaintiffs' losses were alleged to have been covered by the following provision in each of the policies, which the parties stipulated as being the only relevant section:
"In consideration of the premium for this coverage shown on the first page of this policy, and subject to provisions and stipulations (hereinafter referred to as 'provisions') herein and in the policy to which this Extended Coverage is attached, including riders and endorsements thereon, the coverage of this policy is extended to include direct loss by Windstorm, Hail, Explosion, Riot, Riot Attending a Strike, Civil Commotion, Aircraft, Vehicles and Smoke . . .
"Provisions Applicable Only to Windstorm and Hail: This Company shall not be liable for loss caused directly or indirectly by (a) frost or cold weather or (b) ice (other than hail), snow or sleet, whether driven by wind or not.
"This Company shall not be liable for loss to the interior of the building or the property covered therein caused, (a) by rain, snow, sand or dust, whether driven by wind or not, unless the building covered or containing the property covered shall first sustain an actual damage to roof or walls by the direct force of wind or hail and then shall be liable for loss to the interior of the building or the property covered therein as may be caused by rain, snow, sand or dust entering the building through openings in the roof or walls made by direct action of wind or hail or (b) by water from sprinkler equipment or other piping, unless such equipment or piping be damaged as a direct result of wind or hail."
Plaintiffs alleged that the water damage to the insured property occurred on August 1, 1961, when, during a severe storm, the wind blew a fifty-pound wall cap from the rear wall onto the metal roof, thereby breaking holes in the roof through which rain entered. They also alleged that the wind lifted and strained the metal roof causing the seams to open from time to time to admit more rain water.
Defendants contend that the wind was not high enough to be designated as a windstorm or to have blown the wall cap from the wall onto the roof, that this would not have been by "direct force of the wind" as provided in the policies and therefore that rain water entering through holes in the roof so caused would not be a peril insured against. They also contend that not enough water could have entered through the holes to cause the damage found and that the damage was caused instead by an overflow of the gutters which occurred because the downspouts were clogged with pigeon feathers and droppings caught in a wire trap, a peril not covered by the policy. Defendants further contend that there was no evidence that the seams of the roof had opened during the stone.
The two cases were tried together by agreement of counsel and the jury returned a verdict for the full amount of damages claimed by the plaintiffs.
This appeal is brought by defendants from the action of the trial court in overruling two special demurrers, their motion for a new trial, and their motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
The parties have stipulated: the value of the water damage sustained by plaintiffs on August 1, 1961; a waiver of proof of loss; that defendants did not act in bad faith and should not be penalized for refusing to pay plaintiffs' claims; that each of the cases arose from the same occurrences; and that plaintiffs are not required to produce the insurance policies in court, the material portions of the policies being attached to plaintiffs' petitions.
1. Although the separate cases here, consolidated by agreement of all parties for the purpose of trial in the court below, have been brought to this court by a single bill of exceptions, it was decided in Scales v. Peevy, 103 Ga. App. 42 (1b) (118 SE2d 193), that this court has jurisdiction. The Scales case on this point has been followed in Columbus Plumbing, Heating &c. Co. v. Home Fed. Sav. &c. Assn., 104 Ga. App. 36, 39 (1) (121 SE2d 62), and in Turner v. Maryland Cas. Co., 104 Ga. App. 693, 694 (1) (122 SE2d 479).
2. The defendants demurred to paragraph 8 of the petitions which alleged in substance that the wind blew a large tile wall cap weighing approximately 50 pounds with such force as to cause it to strike the roof of the building housing the insured contents and to break a hole through the roof permitting water to enter the building. The demurrer is based on the argument that the allegations concerning the cause of damage are insufficient to bring the occurrence within the coverage of the policy for the reason that they show that the tile cap, and not the wind, broke the hole in the roof through which the rain entered and therefore that "the hole was not caused by the direct force of wind or hail."
In the same vein, in the sole special ground of their motions for new trial the defendants contend that the trial court erred in its charge defining a windstorm as follows: "I charge you that the term 'windstorm' is defined as a wind of sufficient violence to be capable of damage to the insured property, either by its own unaided action or by projecting some object against it." They assert that the instruction misled the jury into believing that the policies covered losses caused by rain entering the building through holes in the roof occasioned by heavy tile being blown against the roof.
The defendants' theory in both their demurrer and their special ground is that these holes would be ones caused by the indirect rather than the direct action of the wind and that any loss occasioned by indirect action of the wind is expressly excluded from the extended coverage afforded by the fire insurance policies. This court must determine, therefore, whether the pleading and the charge complained of are proper when viewed with the limiting language of the relevant exclusionary terms of the extended coverage provisions of the insurance policy. The material portion of the provision is:
"This Company shall not be liable for loss to the interior of the building or the property covered therein caused, (a) by rain, . . . whether driven by wind or not, unless the building . . . containing the property covered shall first sustain an actual damage to roof or walls by the direct force of wind and then shall be liable for loss to the . . . property covered therein as may be caused by rain . . . entering the building through openings in the roof or walls made by direct action of wind . . ." (Emphasis added.) As we construe this qualification, the insurance company is not liable for rain damage other than that resulting from rain which enters through openings in the roof or walls of the building made by the direct action of wind. The policy contains no definition of wind or windstorm, and no provision excluding losses caused by the force of the wind projecting hard objects against the roof or walls of the building.
The definition of a windstorm as expressed in the trial judge's charge was apparently taken from that first stated in a Georgia decision in Chief Judge Felton's special concurring opinion in McClelland v. Northwestern Fire &c. Ins. Co., 91 Ga. App. 640, 643 (86 SE2d 729). The McClelland case involved damages to plaintiff's automobile alleged to have been sustained as a result of a windstorm. Among the authorities cited by Chief Judge Felton in support of the definition he favored was Gerhard v. Travelers Fire Ins. Co., 246 Wis. 625 (18 NW2d 336, 337), where the issue was quite similar to the question here. The Wisconsin case involved a policy insuring against the perils of windstorm and excepting water damage unless the building first sustained actual damage by direct force of the wind. The extended coverage provision there in issue is almost identical with the one before us. The facts there showed that the cottage was damaged when ice was blown across the lake against it. The insurance company contended that the damage was not caused by direct force of the wind. The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that this contention was without merit and said: "In the absence of definition or limitation in the policy, we think that a windstorm must be taken to be a wind of sufficient violence to be capable of damaging the insured property either by its own unaided action or by projecting some object against it . . . While the policy expressly excludes from coverage situations where the damage is caused by water unless the wind shall first have breached the walls of the building, that does not mean that hard objects projected against the building by the immediate force of the wind can be eliminated from the policy. They were not expressly limited, and under all tests known to the law constitute damage done by direct action of the wind."
In Travelers Indem. Co. v. Wilkes County, 102 Ga. App. 362, 363 (116 SE2d 314), which involved only wind damage to an insured building, Chief Judge Felton again defined a windstorm, this time in a full division opinion, in the same terms used in the McClelland decision and in the language used in essence by the trial judge in the charge of which complaint is made in the present case. In the Wilkes County case the court also quoted with approval the statement found in 29A Am. Jur. 445, Insurance, 1329. "In the absence of a specific provision in the policy to the contrary, it is generally sufficient, in order to recover upon a cyclone, tornado, or windstorm policy, to show that the cause designated therein was the efficient cause of the loss, although other causes contributed thereto."
The case of Atlas Assurance Co. v. Lies, 70 Ga. App. 162 (27 SE2d 791) (only a two-judge decision with one dissent, but one where certiorari to the Supreme Court was sought but denied), involved a suit on a policy of automobile insurance for damages to an automobile allegedly caused during a windstorm by a tree falling and striking the automobile while it was traveling on a public highway. In affirming the verdict and judgment for the insured the court found the evidence sufficient to authorize the jury to find that the wind blew the tree down in such a manner as to be the primary cause of the damage to plaintiff's automobile, and thus, as a matter of law, brought the damage within the coverage of the windstorm provisions of the insurance policy "as damage caused directly by . . . windstorm."
As we construe these precedents of our court, it is the law of this State that where, as here, a building containing property insured against damage by windstorm has its roof opened either by the wind lifting the roof or by the wind projecting some object against the roof, so as to permit the entry of rain which damages the property, the resulting damage is caused by the direct force of the wind and comes within the coverage of the policy.
The court correctly overruled the defendants' special demurrers to paragraphs 8 of the petitions. The court did not err in denying the motions for new trial as based on the single special ground of each of the motions.
3. The general grounds of the motions for a new trial question the sufficiency of the evidence to support the verdicts of the jury rendered for the plaintiffs.
First, we consider whether the wind was high enough to have blown the piece of tile onto the roof. The Weather Bureau records showed that the wind velocity was no greater than 22 miles per hour on August 1, 1961. The evidence does not show, however, that the station was in the immediate vicinity of the damaged property, while one witness who was nearby testified that the wind was very high, up to 75 miles per hour. Another witness who was in the building at the time testified, "The wind was blowing to such an extent that the metal roof on the top of the building was making tremendous noise. The roof sounded like cymbals, hitting together, making a metal sound." Under these circumstances we cannot say that the verdict of the jury is unsupported by any evidence of windstorm. Atlas Assurance Co. v. Lies, 70 Ga. App. 162, 165, supra.
A similar situation arose in Trexler Lumber Co. v. Allemannia Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, 289 Pa. 13 (136 A 856) (1927), which also was concerned with a policy insuring against direct damage caused by windstorm. Here, the evidence for the defense, including that of weather reports and weather observers, tended strongly to disprove plaintiff's contention, but the court held that the credibility of the evidence was for the jury.
Second, the defendants' expert witness stated that only 12 gallons of water could have entered the holes in the roof allegedly caused by the blow of the tile, while the water damage must have been caused by several hundred gallons of water. The defendants' expert witness also testified, however, that over 1,800 gallons of water fell on one half of the roof during the storm on the evening of August 1, 1961.
One of plaintiffs' witnesses who was in the building at the time testified that "the deluge came approximately in the middle of the main building . . . it was raining all over the building--raining from the ceiling . . . this was true throughout the 100 ft. portion of the building . . . it would be hundreds of gallons of water that came down on the first floor that night." Although the testimony as to the means through which the water entered the building was conflicting, there is in the record evidence of one witness to the effect that the wind was blowing to such an extent that the metal roof on the top of the building was making a tremendous noise which sounded like cymbals hitting together making a metal sound; and that of another witness who testified: "In my opinion I say that the wind was of sufficient velocity that night to have raised that tin where water could have gotten under it. That night wind was under that roof because I had never heard that roof sound like that before, and it was just flapping like a sheet on a line, and it is my opinion water went under that roof by the wind and let a lot of water down." This evidence was sufficient to authorize the jury to find, as they obviously did, that the water damaging the property entered mainly through the holes in the roof or under the roof driven by the wind.
Finally, the defendants attempted to explain the water damage by showing that it was probably caused by an overflow of rain water in the gutters because the downspouts were clogged by pigeon feathers and droppings caught in a wire trap in the downspout. A witness for plaintiffs testified that he looked at the downspout during the storm and that it was discharging water at full capacity and another of plaintiffs' witnesses testified that he examined the wire trap soon after the rain stopped and found only negligible amounts of pigeon refuse. Defendants' witnesses who examined the premises some days after the storm testified that they found up to six inches of refuse in the wire trap, thereby presenting at best merely another conflict in the evidence for the jury to resolve.
The evidence supported the verdict.
The trial judge did not err in overruling defendants' motions for new trial on the general grounds nor in denying their motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
The exceptions brought to the overruling of the defendants' second demurrer were abandoned.
Judgment affirmed. Carlisle, P. J., and Hall, J., concur.
Joseph J. Gaines, contra.
Erwin, Birchmore & Epting, Howell C. Erwin, Jr., for plaintiffs in error.
DECIDED SEPTEMBER 4, 1963 -- REHEARING DENIED SEPTEMBER 19, 1963.
Friday May 22 22:32 EDT


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