A Florida appellate court recently held that the terms “vandalism” and “malicious mischief” include “arson.” Botee v. S. Fid. Ins. Co., 2015 WL 477836 (Fla. 5th DCA Feb. 6, 2015).
An insured’s home was destroyed by an intentionally set fire. The insured filed a claim under her homeowner’s policy that provided all-risk coverage, subject to a vacancy exclusion which excluded coverage for losses caused by “vandalism and malicious mischief, theft or attempted theft” if the dwelling had been vacant or unoccupied for more than thirty consecutive days immediately before the loss. The insurer denied the claim on the basis that the intentionally set fire was an act of “vandalism and malicious mischief.” The insured filed a declaratory judgment action and filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that although her property had been vacant for more than thirty days prior to the loss, the vacancy exclusion applied only to “vandalism and malicious mischief,” not to “fire.” The trial court denied the motion and entered summary judgment in favor of the insurer, holding that the vacancy exclusion in the policy was unambiguous and the term “vandalism and malicious mischief” encompasses arson within its plain and ordinary meaning. The insured appealed.
The appellate court affirmed, finding that the plain and ordinary meanings of “vandalism” and “malicious mischief” include “arson,” notwithstanding that neither are defined terms and most courts have held that the destruction of property by an intentionally set fire is encompassed within the terms “vandalism” and “malicious mischief.” The appellate court also rejected the insured’s argument that the court should consider that the named perils coverage for personal property under the policy distinguished between “fire or lightning” and “vandalism” or “malicious mischief.” The court found that since there was no personal property damage, it was necessary to read only the coverage provisions related to the dwelling and the general conditions and definitions applicable to the entire policy.