Under a property insurance policy, exclusion of damage by ‘domestic animals’ does not include feral cats

There is an interesting insurance claim case running through the civil courts in America at the moment. I’ll try and keep it straightforward but accurate because I know how legal stuff can be mighty boring.

Property insurance

Property owners and landlords, Joel and Kim Goldberger, have their property insured with State Farm. The Goldberger’s property was damaged by ‘feral cats’ because their tenants had allowed feral cats access to it.

The Goldbergers claimed for $75,000 on their State Farm insurance policy. State Farm refused to pay up because the policy does not cover for damage caused by ‘domestic animals’. State Farm argued that the feral cats were domesticated. However, there was no evidence that the tenants cared for the cats i.e. that they maintained the cats.

The first court decided in favour of State Farm. The Goldbergers appealed the decision and the Arizona appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision ruling that a domestic animal exclusion in an insurance policy did not preclude coverage of a claim for property damage caused by feral cats.

In other words where damage is caused by feral cats a claim can be made under an insurance policy which excludes damage by ‘domestic animals’ e.g. domestic cats.

There you are. Domestic cats are domestic cats and and feral cats are feral cats in insurance policies and you can’t merge the two, which makes sense.

I suppose that if the tenants had maintained the feral cats and if the feral cats had become domesticated to the point where they could be described as domestic animals the result would have been different.

The matter really turns on whether the occupier of the property – the tenant in this instance – had control over the cats and if so it would mean that the damage could no longer be described as accidental. That last sentence is my personal interpretation of this case.

P.S. I suspect that the tenants were in fact maintaining the ‘feral cats’ who were probably semi-feral and domesticated anyway. It appears to be a case of cat hoarding but we are not told.

Sources: claims journal

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