Court Reverses Local Insurance Company’s Denial Based on Company’s Narrow Definition of Drowning
The Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling that favored DeSmet Mutual Insurance Company in a claim brought by the Papousek family of Quinn, SD for cattle lost in the 2013 Winter Storm Atlas. Atlas brought torrential rain and heavy snowstorms that killed more than 43,000 head of cattle in South Dakota. DeSmet had sold Papouseks a policy promising to pay for drowned cattle. When the Papouseks lost 93 yearling heifers in the storm, worth $3,000 a head, a doctor of veterinary medicine concluded the cattle “absolutely died due to drowning.” DeSmet, however, refused to pay.
DeSmet claimed coverage applied only if the cattle had actually been submerged in liquid, while Papouseks’ cattle apparently aspirated after inhaling rain and snow. The Supreme Court noted that both a dictionary of veterinary medicine and Webster’s dictionary include definitions of drowning that refer to death by suffocation from aspiration of fluid. The Court concluded that “drowning” reasonably could be defined either way, and noted that the company had not chosen to restrict coverage only to drowning by immersion. It ruled that Papouseks are entitled to coverage under their policy.
The case enforces an important principle of insurance coverage. Namely, when an undefined policy term can have two alternative definitions, both reasonable, South Dakota law requires the policy to be construed liberally in favor of the policyholder. DeSmet refused to do that, but now has been ordered to provide coverage. DeSmet adjusters reportedly have been contacting other ranchers recently about claims previously denied. Though many ranchers bought coverage the same or similar to the Papouseks, however, the company reportedly is still reluctant to pay the claims in full.
“When insurance companies deny claims in whole or part, it can affect a family’s entire livelihood,” said Seamus Culhane, attorney at Turbak Law Office, PC. “Once that storm caused catastrophic losses to ranchers all across South Dakota, it was time for DeSmet to make good on the policies these ranchers had paid for, not avoid paying by concocting a cheap technicality. Any ranchers who experienced livestock losses in the Atlas Storm – only to have their insurance claims denied – should seek the compensation they deserve.”
If you believe your insurance company has unfairly denied your claim, contact the experienced attorneys at Turbak Law Office, PC. We can help you navigate the legal process and get the coverage you paid for.
For more information on what to do when your insurance claim is denied, contact Turbak Law Office, PC. by calling 866-231-0914.