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December 5, 2017

Windstorm, Explosion, Riot, Aircraft-Vehicle, Smoke, and Vandalism

Introduction

The coverages of windstorm or hail, explosion, riot, civil commotion, damage by aircraft or vehicles, and smoke were the first coverages to expand the standard fire policy. Vandalism was then added. Although these coverages have a long tradition, many of the terms are left undefined in the policies and questions still arise over their meaning. This discussion highlights important issues raised by these coverages. We will focus primarily on the current ISO homeowners forms.

Windstorm or Hail

Most property forms provide coverage for direct physical damage by windstorm or hail. The forms generally do not define windstorm, so the courts are often asked to interpret the policy in light of the particular circumstances of a case. Generally, a windstorm does not mean that winds must be extremely severe, as in a hurricane, or sustained for a certain length of time. It may be enough that the wind gusts in short bursts. Merriam Webster Online defines windstorm as “a storm marked by high wind with little or no precipitation”. Courts often turn to dictionaries when a term is undefined as that is what an insured has access to and will generally use to look up a term. NOAA does not define windstorm; it is not used in meteorology. Appleman’s (5-42 New Appleman on Insurance Law Library Edition § 42.01A (2017)) states that courts assess whether or not something is a windstorm by looking at actual conditions instead of types of storms. Several courts have defined windstorm as a wind of sufficient violence to be capable of damaging property by its own action or projecting an object against it. For example strong winds throw a patio umbrella against the side of a neighbors’’ house causing damage. There is no standard wind speed used to designate a windstorm.

Both windstorm and hail are usually mentioned together as covered causes of loss, but they are not synonyms for each other. A windstorm may occur at any time of the year in North America, but hail is a by-product of severe thunderstorms, which typically occur when the air is the most unstable; that is, in the spring and summer. Hail, which may fall in pieces as large as baseballs, often occurs in conjunction with tornadic activity.

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