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Dillon v. Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

April 27, 2017

CRAIG DILLON
v.
TENNESSEE FARMERS MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY

          Session November 21, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for McMinn County No. 2015-CV-204 J. Michael Sharp, Judge

         A policyholder brought suit to recover under personal fire and extended coverage policy for damage caused when burglars broke into his property and removed copper wiring, causing considerable damage. The trial court determined that the majority of the loss was excluded from coverage because it was caused by theft and awarded policyholder the amount previously tendered under the vandalism coverage, less his deductible. Policyholder appeals, contending that the plain language of the policy provides coverage for the damage caused by burglars. Holding that the damages covered under the policy are not limited to damages caused by vandalism, we reverse the judgment and remand the case for reconsideration of the amount of damages due the policyholder.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed; Case Remanded

          D. Mitchell Bryant, Athens, Tennessee, for the appellant, Craig Dillon.

          H. Chris Trew, Athens, Tennessee, for the appellee, Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company.

          Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., joined.

          OPINION

          RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Craig Dillon purchased a home that had been previously damaged by fire, with the intention of renovating it. The property was not to be occupied by Mr. Dillon during the period of renovation, and he purchased a personal fire and extended coverage insurance policy for the property from Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company ("Tennessee Farmers"), which included coverage for vandalism or malicious mischief.

         In October 2013, Mr. Dillon discovered that the home had been broken into. The intruders damaged the doors of the home; cut through sheet rock; damaged the circuit and junction boxes; pulled out wiring from the upper and lower levels of the home and the garage; and removed the underground wiring running between the home and the garage. Mr. Dillon notified Tennessee Farmers of the incident, made a claim on his policy, and submitted cost estimates that included the cost to repair the interior and to rewire the house. Tennessee Farmers declined to pay Mr. Dillon the total amount he claimed and tendered a check in the amount of $6, 465.30, which represented the amount Tennessee Farmers believed was payable under the vandalism coverage.

         Mr. Dillon filed a civil warrant in McMinn County General Sessions Court; Tennessee Farmers filed an answer, admitting that it owed Mr. Dillon for any loss as a result of vandalism and denying liability for damages caused by theft. A trial was held on June 2, 2015, and the court awarded Mr. Dillon $18, 489.37 in damages. Tennessee Farmers appealed to the Circuit Court, and trial was held on March 31, 2016. On April 20 the court entered an order holding that, because the claimed loss was caused by theft, Mr. Dillon was only entitled to the funds which had been tendered, minus his deductible. Mr. Dillon raises one issue on appeal: whether the trial court erred in finding that his loss was excluded from coverage under the terms of his insurance policy.

         II. Standard of Review

         "[Q]uestions regarding the extent of insurance coverage present issues of law involving the interpretation of contractual language." Garrison v. Bickford, 377 S.W.3d 659, 663 (Tenn. 2012) (citing Clark v. Sputniks, LLC, 368 S.W.3d 431, 436 (Tenn. 2012); Maggart v. Almany Realtors, Inc., 259 S.W.3d 700, 703 (Tenn. 2008)). As a general rule, we apply the same rules of construction when interpreting insurance contracts as are applicable to other types of contracts. Fisher v. Revell, 343 S.W.3d 776, 779 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2009) (citing Philips v. United Servs. Auto. ...


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