ROOFING WARS

Few things present a greater maintenance challenge to a church than the roof.  Even medium size churches usually have under the roof a lot of square footage, some not being visually beheld, if at all, except for very short times during their main worship time.  Also, as a volunteer organization, typically led by Pastors that have been to Bible college or seminary but not worked as roofers or contractors, churches are usually hard pressed to maintain a commercial size roof.

Insurance companies and churches have one thing in common:  the insurance company will not invest in underwriting prior to policy issuance and the church usually has poor roof maintenance records even if the roof has been well maintained.  Neither usually has a photo history updated annually or bi-annually.

In State Auto Property Casualty Insurance Company v El Shaddai Christian Ministries, Inc., Slip Op. (USDC, SD, N Div, 2017), the church claimed it had roof damage and water intrusion from a storm in March 2012.  The church had policies, one at a time, with Brotherhood Mutual, State Farm, and State Auto, one right after the other.  The church made the claim on all three policies, again one after the other, and was denied by all three on the claim that the roof damage was caused by neglect.  The Court was not deciding the case; the Court overruled State Auto’s Motion for Summary Judgment finding factual disputes and set the case for trial later in 2017.  The church had to hire a PhD in meteorology to prove there was a storm and an expert that opined the damage to the roof was storm related.  The insurance carrier expert claimed the damage was due to neglect, wear and tear.

All three insurers did not appear, from the evidence reviewed in the opinion (but which might be presented at a trial), to have performed underwriting prior to policy issuance beyond accepting an application and a check.  While it may be that at trial the carrier may be able to prove that the application contained misrepresentations, that was not the subject of the Court’s opinion.  Likewise, the church might have substantial evidence that all three carriers were on notice and the church was transparent in its business dealings with the carriers.  If so, the church will be hard to beat.

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