California Homeowner’s Insurer Not Required To Pay Extended Repair Limits Until Homeowner Shows Proof of Repair

Under standard homeowner insurance policies the insurer is typically required to pay only the “actual cash value” of a loss—i.e., the fair (depreciated) market value—unless and until the insured actually incurs repair costs in excess of the actual cash value to repair the home.  In Kelly Minich, et al. v. Allstate Insurance Company, __ Cal.App.4th __, 2011 Cal.App. LEXIS 270 (March 11, 2011) (Minich), a California appellate court recently rejected a homeowner’s creative interpretation of its Allstate homeowner’s insurance policy to get extended repair or replacement cost policy limits without regard to actually repairing or replacing the fire-damaged home.

In Minich Allstate issues a homeowner’s insurance policy to Kelly and Debbie Minich.  A fire destroys the Minichs’ home.  The policy requires Allstate to pay the Minichs the “actual cash value” of their home up to the $129,840 policy limit.  An extended policy limits endorsement requires Allstate to pay up to 150% of the policy limit in excess of the actual cash value if the Minichs actually repair or replace the home.

Allstate pays the $129,840 policy limit, less the $250 deductible, within 2 weeks of the fire.  Allstate refuses to pay the $64,920 extended limit until the Minichs demonstrate to Allstate 15 months after the fire that they in fact are rebuilding the home.

The Minichs sue Allstate for breach of contract and bad faith, claiming that Allstate should have paid them the $64,920 immediately after the fire. The Minichs contend that Insurance Code §2051 and §2051.5 2 require that an insurer pay the “policy limit” of a homeowner’s policy whenever the house is destroyed, irrespective of whether the insured rebuilds the house, and that the “policy limit” includes the $64,920 provided for in the endorsement.

Allstate files a motion for summary judgment and argues that it timely paid the Minichs the full “policy limit” under §2051(b)(1), and that the additional $64,920 represents an amount above the policy limit.  Allstate maintains that it is not required to pay the additional $64,920 unless and until the Minichs rebuild their home.

The Minichs oppose Allstate’s motion and argue that §2051 and §2051.5 require that an insurer pay the “policy limit or the fair market value of the structure, whichever is less” (§2051(b)(1)), without regard to whether the insured repairs the structure. The Minichs maintain that the “policy limit” of their policy includes the $64,920 provided for in the extended limits endorsement.

The trial court grants Allstate’s motion, and enters judgment in its favor. The Minichs appeal.

The appellate court concludes that the Minichs’ interpretation of the policy is flawed, and that neither the statutes nor the policy require Allstate to pay the extended limits under the endorsement without regard to repair or replacement.  The appellate court interprets the endorsement to refer to an amount in excess of the policy limit, and not to extend or increase the policy limit.

The appellate court also notes that public policy supports its interpretation; otherwise the homeowner would be “bettered” by receiving replacement cost benefits above the actual cash value of the home without ever having to actually replace the home—a benefit not bargained for in the insurance contract.  And a benefit that the California legislature could easily have mandated in the statutes, if it had so intended.

Since the appellate court determined that Allstate timely paid the Minichs all benefits owed under the policy, it also affirmed summary judgment and dismissal of the Minichs’ bad faith claims.  The Minich decision reaffirms that a homeowner must actually start repairs of its damaged home in order to collect policy benefits under an extended repair or replacement cost limits endorsement over and above the actual cash value of the loss.

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