“‘[E]xplosion’ does not include a decomposing body’s cells explosively expanding, causing leakage of bodily fluids”

April 24, 2014

In Wednesday’s Rodrigo v. State Farm Florida Ins. Co. (Fla. Ct. App. Apr. 23, 2014), Judy Rodrigo had a problem:

The insured’s next door neighbor died, and time passed before the body was discovered. During that time, the decomposed body leaked bodily fluids, which infiltrated the walls and the insured’s apartment causing damage.

The insurer apparently tendered payment for repairs to the unit, but not for “personal property damage,” but

The insurer argued the policy covered personal property damage only for named perils, and a decomposing body was not one of them. The insured responded that the claim resulted from an “explosion,” a named peril under the policy. She supplied an affidavit of a licensed physician, who attested that the deceased’s body “underwent advanced decomposition” and “the internal contents of her body explosively expanded and leaked.”

No dice, said the court — “explosion” is not even ambiguous (which might have led to liability, since ambiguous provisions in insurance contracts are often interpreted against the insurer):

Rather than stretching common sense, the trial court correctly gave the term “explosion” its “plain and unambiguous meaning as understood by the ‘man-on-the-street.’” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “explosion” as “the act or instance of exploding” and “a large-scale, rapid, or spectacular expansion or bursting out or forth.”] The plain meaning of the term “explosion” does not include a decomposing body’s cells explosively expanding, causing leakage of bodily fluids. In short, although novel in her attempt to do so, the insured could not establish that the decomposing body was tantamount to an explosion.

Remember, “novel” is not a compliment when said by a court about a legal argument. Thanks to How Appealing for the pointer.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.
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Eugene Volokh · April 24, 2014

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