Eighth Circuit Reverses Judgment on Farm Bureau Vandalism Policy

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Wilcox owned a rental property insured by Farm Bureau for fire and other perils. The tenants moved out in June 2004. In November 2004, Wilcox discovered a running faucet which caused extensive damage, and he submitted a claim. Farm Bureau filed this action seeking a declaration that coverage did not apply.

In Minnesota, fire insurance policies must provide a statutory minimum coverage. The insurer is not liable if the premises were vacant for 60 days or more. See Minn. Stat. § 65A.01, subd. 3. Insurers are able to provide more coverage if they want. Id. The Farm Bureau policy at issue had two provisions affecting vacancy. One provided that coverage was excluded for vandalism or malicious mischief if the premises were vacant for 30 days or more (“Vandalism Provision”). The other provided that, unless limited elsewhere in the policy, no coverage would apply to premises that were vacant for 180 days or more (“Vacancy Provision”).

Wilcox only raised the Vandalism Provision to the district court; he did not find the Vacancy Provision. The district court held that the 60-day vacancy provision of the Minnesota statute applied and granted summary judgment to Farm Bureau. In an uncharacteristic move, Wilcox prevailed by raising a new argument on appeal.

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