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Sullivan v. Std. Fire Ins. Co.

Supreme Court of Delaware

January 30, 2008, Submitted; February 11, 2008, Decided

No. 515, 2007

Opinion

ORDER

This 11th day of February 2008, it appears to the Court that:

(1) Appellants-plaintiffs John and Carolyn Sullivan appeal a Superior Court decision granting summary judgment to appellee-defendant, The Standard Fire Insurance Company (SFIC). The Sullivans claim that the trial judge erred as a matter of law by interpreting the language of the insurance policy to exclude damages to personal property caused by mold spores. After review, we find the trial judge erred by granting summary judgment. We reverse and remand to the Superior Court for further proceedings in accordance with this Order.

(2) The Sullivans owned a condominium and carried a homeowner's insurance policy issued by SFIC. The policy included coverage for damages to a "Dwelling" (Coverage A) and to "Personal Property" (Coverage C). On July 20, 2001, the Sullivans submitted a claim to SFIC for alleged damages to the condominium and to personal property within the condominium. 1 

The  [*2] Sullivans alleged that a windstorm blew shingles off the roof, causing the damages to the condominium. The windstorm occurred in December 1999 or January 2000, but they did not have the roof repaired until May 2001. Following the windstorm, the Sullivans noticed damp carpets and stains on the ceiling and walls. They also heard water running through the walls. SFIC agreed to pay for the damages to the condominium structure.

The Sullivans also claimed damages to personal property inside the condominium. They argued that mold spores developed inside the condominium's walls and insulation after the windstorm opened a hole in the roof and contaminated their personal property. Samples taken on several occasions "establish[ed] the existence of mold in the condominium and even on the furniture and other personal property." 2 Nonetheless, in October 2002, SFIC informed the Sullivans that their insurance policy did not cover the claimed damage.

On November 19, 2004, the Sullivans filed an action in the Superior Court claiming that SFIC had breached the insurance contract by denying their claim for personal property loss. An unanswered Request for Admissions limited by default the Sullivans'  [*3] claim to the insurance policy's Coverage C, and to one peril listed under that coverage ("windstorm or hail"). 3 The relevant language states:

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2008 Del. LEXIS 66 *; 956 A.2d 643

JOHN SULLIVAN and CAROLYN SULLIVAN, Plaintiffs Below, Appellants, v. THE STANDARD FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant Below, Appellee.

Notice: PUBLISHED IN TABLE FORMAT IN THE ATLANTIC REPORTER.

Prior History:  [*1] Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for New Castle County. C.A. No. 04C-11-214.

Sullivan v. Std. Fire Ins. Co., 2007 Del. Super. LEXIS 252 (Del. Super. Ct., Aug. 29, 2007)

CORE TERMS

Coverage, windstorm, personal property, trial judge, condominium, damages, physical loss, peril, contamination, proximate, opening, roof, insurance policy, Dwelling, hail, loss of use, insure, grant summary judgment, summary judgment, water damage

Civil Procedure, Appeals, Summary Judgment Review, Standards of Review, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Insurance Law, Claim, Contract & Practice Issues, Policy Interpretation, Judicial Review, Plain Language, Entire Contract, Technical Constructions & Meanings, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Legal Entitlement