Minox Equities Ltd. v. Sovereign General Insurance Co.

[2010] M.J. No. 201

2010 MBCA 63

Manitoba Court of Appeal

R.J. Scott C.J.M., M.A. Monnin and F.M. Steel JJ.A.

June 16, 2010

The insured owned a housing complex, for which it purchased a broad-form, all-risk policy of insurance from Sovereign-General Insuance Co. between 1993 and 2003. The Complex was built in 1977 and within two years there were reports of water leaking into some apartments via vents and light fixtures. These problems continued and a persistent mould problem developed. The mould problem was addressed on an ongoing basis with bleach treatments and by replacing damaged drywall and carpeting as necessary. No insurance claims were made with respect to this damage.

In 2001, it was discovered that some of the mould was toxigenic and further investigation revealed that the toxigenic mould originated from a “mould amplification site” within the building. Mould remediation and elimination of conditions leading to mould propagation, such as replacement of doors and windows, was recommended. Following further investigation, the insured submitted two proofs of loss in late 2002, for $8,585 and $646,000 respectively. The insurer denied coverage of both proofs of loss, on the basis that the build-up of humidity causing the mould growth was not the result of a risk or peril; and exclusions against latent defect or improper design and seepage of water or dampness of atmosphere applied. The insurer also stated that the insured had failed to report the loss on a timely basis. The insured subsequently started this action.

At trial, the judge determined that the evidence established that there was seepage of water through doors or windows, that there was the entrance of rain, snow or sleet through doors or windows, and that there was dampness of atmosphere in the Complex, all of which contributed to excess humidity and moisture within the units of the Complex. He also determined that moisture was an essential ingredient for the development of mould. However, because the evidence established that mould would not inevitably result from moisture or humidity problems, the trial judge was unable to conclude that the excessive moisture was a direct or indirect cause triggering the appearance of the mould. On that basis he concluded that the loss was not excluded under the policy.

On appeal, the Court found that the trial judge had erred in his interpretation and application of the exclusion clause. The Court noted that the use of the phrase "directly or indirectly" generally connotes that both the direct and consequential losses of an event are captured. Thus, as long as the evidence indicated that mould was a direct or consequential result of the seepage, rain, and humidity, then the exclusion clauses would apply, absent other issues. In this case, the evidence, as found by the trial judge, was clear that the seepage, rain, and humidity present in the Complex led to the moisture and humidity conditions which were so conducive to mould growth. Even if the mould was the result of concurrent causes, the use of the phrase "directly or indirectly caused" in the exclusion clauses, allowed the exclusion clauses to apply. Therefore, even though the evidence indicated that the right temperature, adequate food, and mould spores needed to be present, the evidence also established that moisture was a prerequisite for mould growth.

It was clear that the seepage, rain and humidity problems within the Complex contributed at least indirectly to the growth of mould within the Complex and consequently, the exclusion clauses applied. In the result, the Court allowed the appeal, holding that the insurer was not liable to the insured to cover the costs of mould remediation and prevention.