Landlord’s insurance: Losses caused by cats excluded

A legal case: Bjugan v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., 969 F.Supp.2d 1283 (D.Or., 2013) tells us that under Oregon law losses occuring in a renter’s property caused directly or indirectly by cats (either domestic or feral) were excluded under a landlord’s unsurance policy.

The cats – both domestic and feral – are considered domestic animals under Oregan insurance law in the context of this policy.

In the case the renter kept 95 cats and 2 dogs in the rented property – sounds like a hoarder. It is no wonder that there was damage to the property.

The interesting finding of the court is that the judge decided that feral cats were ‘domestic animals’ in the context of this insurance policy.

It seems the landlord argued that as some of the cats were feral or semi-feral they were not domestic animals and therefore outside the exclusion clause. In which case his property was unsured for losses incurred by the cats. The court disagreed.

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Here is a section of the policy:

SECTION Iā€”Losses Not Insured

1. We do not insure for loss to the property described in Coverage A and Coverage B either consisting of, or directly and immediately caused by, one or more of the following:

n. birds, vermin, rodents, insects or
domestic animals
. We do cover the breakage of glass or safety glazing material which is party of the building, when caused by birds, vermin, rodents, insects or domestic animals.

And here is a section of the judgement concerning domestic animals:

The only cases brought to the Court’s attention that discuss the meaning of domestic animals lead to the conclusion that the term includes the so-called feral cats as well as those more accepting of human attention. Using as background a definition from Black’s Law Dictionary, an Ohio court declined to differentiate between domestic dogs and stray dogs. See City of Dayton v. Dye, No. 9539, 1986 WL 12353, at *3 (Ohio Ct.App.1986).

Thus, I conclude the meaning of the term domestic animals is not ambiguous. It includes domestic cats whether feral or completely comfortable with human contact. The record supports the conclusion that the cats are all of the same species and the policy’s use of the term in context suggests no intent by the parties to exclude damage by cats enjoying the attention of humans, while covering damage caused by cats that do not.

See the full case report here.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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2 Responses

  1. M E King says:

    Policy aside these cases are largely the fault of the property owner for failing to include and execute the right of regular inspections of the property and interior of the house or apartment. You cannot hide 95 cats. Realistically many policies might be able to exclude the damage based on the fact the landlord did not do anything to mitigate the damage through inspections and evictions.

  2. W.Williams says:

    The problem here is that the judge actually has an education. The house-cat, the man-made species known as Felis catus, whether feral or sitting in a person’s lap, is called a “domesticated animal” or “domestic animal”–any animal that has been selectively bred for human purposes is called this. Even wild-horses running free on the plains of North America are called a “domesticated animal” (an invasive species too, no less) because they came from Eurasion species that were selectively bred by humans. This term, “domesticated” or “domestic” when applied to species (animal or plant) is usually learned in the first class, or at least the first semester, of Biology 101 as a freshman in high-school. Did you go to high-school?

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