Van Hoesen v. Lloyd’s of London – Deck Collapse Injury Lawsuit

So many South Carolina summer afternoons are spent on decks – either at private residences, hotels, restaurants or other venues. deck1

Unfortunately, these features are far less safe than you might think. Based on statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), some 224,000 people were injured nationally from 2003 to 2007 due to a deck or porch, and about 15 percent of these incidents were caused by structural failure or collapse.

In particular, outdoor wood decks and porches have been associated with the most injuries and fatalities. In that time frame, structural failure or collapse of decks have resulted in between 3,650 to 4,600 injuries. Other injuries have resulted from problems with railings or stairways attached to the decks.

Our Spartanburg personal injury attorneys know that recovering damages for such injuries may be challenging, depending on the circumstances, but there could be a number of possible defendants. There could be action against the property owner, contractor, maintenance company, property management firm or others.

In the recent case of Van Hoesen v. Lloyd’s of London, the issue plaintiffs confronted was a lapsed insurance policy and trouble finding the contractor in order to serve notice of litigation.

According to court records, plaintiff was seriously injured when he fell from a deck in July 2012 in Rhode Island.

Two years after the fall, he and his wife filed a lawsuit alleging a contractor had negligently constructed the deck. When they could not locate the contractor, they asked the court if they could substitute the contractor’s insurance company. (In most cases, plaintiffs cannot directly sue the insurance company; they must first prove liability on the part of the insured.) The Superior Court granted that motion.

Defendant insurer responded with an admission that they had insured the contractor- but the policy had been canceled in August 2007 due to non-payment. However, even if it hadn’t been canceled, the policy by its own unambigous terms would have expired in March 2008, long before the plaintiff incurred his injuries.

Further, defendant insurer argued it wasn’t a properly named defendant because, despite plaintiff’s assertion that it could not find the contractor, defense argued not all reasonable efforts were exhausted. The constable in charge of finding the contractor reportedly only went once to a vacant residence, with no explanation as to why the contractor resided at that location.

Subsequently, trial judge granted defense summary judgment motion after finding it was undisputed there was no insurance policy covering that covered the claim. She could not hold insurer liable to pay for something that was beyond the contract period.

Plaintiff appealed the summary judgment, arguing the policy went contrary to summary judgment. Specifically, the policy was paid for up to $500,000 during the time of construction – and the policy was canceled just a few weeks after construction. This meant the policy provided almost no coverage at all to anyone. They argued the statutorily-mandated coverage is null if it can be terminated in the aftermath of the work.

The state supreme court found this argument, “creative,” but ultimately unconvincing. Justices found nothing in the spirit or letter of the law that would compel an insurer to provide coverage after the policy period has expired or when (as in this case) an insured fails his obligations under the policy (i.e., to pay it).

Plaintiffs might have a case against the contractor – if they could find him – or potentially the property owner. However at this point, the statute of limitations on personal injury actions has expired.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Van Hoesen v. Lloyd’s of London, March 24, 2016, Rhode Island Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Rote v. Zel Custom Mfg. – Product Liability Case Against Foreign Company, March 26, 2016, Spartanburg Injury Lawyer Blog

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