The Chain of Causation

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Q: Until the wee hours of this morning, I owned a boat.  The train yard is nearby, and a fire broke out.  Some of the cars contained dynamite.  They exploded.  Flying asphalt hit a power pole.  That fell upon Mermaid II.  I had fire insurance, but the company refuses to pay.

A: With such a chain of causes, the question is, whether the cause of your loss truly was the original cause: the fire.  A philosopher or a lawyer might convince us that fire was the cause.  A theologian might contend that the cause was Eve’s eating the apple.  Your lawyer will contend that the question is for a jury to decide.

The courts claim to be guided by the ‘reasonable expectation’ of the ordinary policyholder when purchasing an insurance contract.  It is the intention of this imaginary person that counts.  The courts like to say that the law is concerned only with a chain of causation that the parties would have ‘contemplated’.

The insurance company will argue that the fire was too remote: there was never exposure to its direct perils.  Even exposure to its indirect perils came only through the presence of extraordinary conditions.  Most likely, your attorney will seek to get the court to let a jury decide.  His or her point will be that only a jury can say where the line is to be drawn.  Your case falls in the borderland where juries must solve the doubt.

In many cases, the court stops it from going to the jury.  Suppose your insurance policy excludes ‘earth movement’.  At first glance, this might seem insignificant, because there are very few earthquakes in New York.  However, the courts say that earth movement is a far broader concept than mere earthquakes.

If rocks fall from a neighboring cliff upon your house, that rock fall may well be deemed part of earth movement, and the court may well dismiss your case.

It is always a good idea to read the policy, discuss it with an attorney or competent insurance broker and get written clarification of any troublesome points.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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