STEVEN L. VERA et al. v. LIBERTY MUTUAL FIRE INS. CO., SC 20178

United States District Court, District of Connecticut

      Federal Certification; Insurance; What Constitutes “Substantial Impairment of Structural Integrity” for Purposes of Applying “Collapse” Coverage Provision of  Homeowner’s Insurance Policy.  The plaintiffs, who were issued a homeowner’s insurance policy by the defendant, are among a group of homeowners in northeastern Connecticut who have observed cracking in their basement walls due to the presence of the mineral pyrrhotite in the concrete that was used in the construction of their house.  The plaintiffs’ policy covered losses due to the “collapse of a building or any part of a building caused by . . . [h]idden decay [or] [u]se of defective material or methods in construction . . . .  Collapse does not include settling, cracking, shrinking, bulging or expansion . . . .” The plaintiffs contacted an engineer, who confirmed that there was abnormal cracking in their basement walls and drafted a report stating that it was impossible to predict how quickly the foundation would deteriorate to the point that it is structurally dangerous.  The engineer also found that there was no way to arrest the process and no way to repair the existing damage without completely replacing the basement walls.  The plaintiffs filed a claim pursuant to the “collapse” provision of their homeowner’s insurance policy.  The defendant’s engineers inspected the plaintiffs’ basement walls and concluded that the present state of the cracking in the walls did not amount to a “substantial impairment to the structural integrity” of the plaintiff’s home, that the walls were adequately supporting the structure and that there was no concern of imminent collapse.  The defendant denied coverage on the ground that the policy did not afford coverage for “cracking to the foundation due to faulty, inadequate or defective materials along with settling.”  The plaintiffs brought this action in the Superior Court, claiming breach of the insurance policy, and the defendant removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut.  The District Court first determined that “collapse” was defined as a “substantial impairment of structural integrity” pursuant to the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision in Beach v. Middlesex Mutual Assurance Co., 205 Conn. 246 (1987).  After noting that the definition of collapse in Beach has not been elaborated on by any subsequent case law, the District Court certified the following question for review by the Supreme Court pursuant to General Statutes § 51-199b:  What constitutes a “substantial impairment of structural integrity” for purposes of applying the “collapse” provision in the plaintiffs’ homeowner’s insurance policy?