The Florida Supreme Court recently held that an insured may obtain coverage for an entire claim where there are multiple independent concurrent causes of loss, when no single cause can be considered the sole or proximate cause and at least one cause is covered under a policy. Sebo v. Am. Home Assurance Co., Inc., 2016 WL 7013859 (Fla. Dec. 1, 2016), rehearing denied, 2017 WL 361132 (Fla. Jan. 25, 2017).
The insured submitted a claim under his homeowner’s policy for damage caused by multiple perils, including defective construction, rain and wind. The homeowner’s policy excluded coverage for defective construction, but covered damage caused by rain and wind. The insurer tendered payment for mold damage, but denied coverage for water intrusion damage. The insured sued the insurer seeking a declaration that the policy provided coverage for all damage. The jury found for the insured and the court entered judgment against the insurer. The appellate court reversed after having evaluated the loss under the efficient proximate cause theory and remanded for new trial.
The Florida Supreme Court reversed, finding that when independent perils converge and no single cause can be considered the sole or proximate cause, it is appropriate to apply the concurrent cause doctrine. The Supreme Court discussed the split of authority among Florida courts of appeal as to which of two theories – efficient proximate cause and concurrent cause – should apply when two or more perils converge to cause a loss and at least one of the perils is excluded by the policy. It noted that under the efficient proximate cause theory, where there is concurrence of different perils, the efficient cause – the one that set the other in motion – is the cause to which the loss is attributable. Under the concurrent cause theory, coverage may exist when an insured peril constitutes a concurrent cause of the loss even when it is not the prime or efficient cause. The Supreme Court held that there was no reasonable way to determine the proximate cause of the insured’s loss, as the rain and construction defects acted in concert to create the damage, and it would not be feasible to apply the efficient proximate cause doctrine.