Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Are You Covered If the Cows Come Home? -- The Bovine Break-In Peril

So you think it's bad when the new puppy gnaws on your wood-spindled furniture?  When kitty shreds your sheer drapes?  Latisha Francis of Pike County, Arkansas, has seen much, much worse.  

Francis arrived home recently to find that two tons of bovine had invaded and ransacked her house.  Bessie, Bluebell, and Buttercup had butted their way into Francis' home, apparently after being frightened by her dogs, which chased the cows after they had gotten out of their enclosure.  Once inside, the three 1,400-pound-plus girls proceeded to help themselves to their antagonists' 50-pound bag of dog food, deposit a wheelbarrow's worth of manure, and obliterate furniture as they kept struggling to stay on their feet on the home's hoove-unsteady wooden floors.  Ninety minutes, a pickup truck and some rope later -- Francis and her sons, Billy Joe and Ben, needing the rope and pickup to drag Bluebell out of the house -- and Francis was able to survey the $20,000 or so in damage to her home and personal property.

After returning the cows to their outdoor enclosure, Francis called her insurance company, only to learn that the damage wasn't covered.  But why?  Probably because the home-invading cows were hers.

The standard homeowners' policy HO-3 form affords all-risk coverage for the dwelling (Coverage A) and other structures (Coverage B) and named perils coverage for personal property or contents (Coverage C).  Because insurers don't want to cover damage caused by your new puppy or kitty, the HO-3 expressly does not insure for loss to the dwelling or other structures caused by "[a]nimals owned or kept by an 'insured'".  Bessie, Bluebell and Buttercup presumably were owned or kept by Francis, so there would be no coverage for the damage the bovines caused to doorways, floors, etc.

Most homeowners policies afford only named perils coverage for personal property.  The October 2000 edition of the HO-3 names 14 perils for personal property coverage:
  1. Fire or Lightning
  2. Windstorm or Hail
  3. Explosion
  4. Riot or Civil Commotion
  5. Aircraft
  6. Vehicles
  7. Smoke
  8. Vandalism or Malicious Mischief
  9. Theft
  10. Falling Objects
  11. Weight of Ice, Snow or Sleet
  12. Accidental Discharge or Overflow of Water or Steam
  13. Sudden and Accidental Tearing Apart, Cracking, Burning or Bulging 
  14. Freezing
  15. Sudden and Accidental Damage from Artificially Generated Electrical Current
  16. Volcanic Eruption
Now, although a creative policyholder's counsel or public adjuster might argue for coverage to Francis' personal property under the riot or civil commotion, vandalism, falling objects and even volcanic eruption (dog food aftermath) perils, none applies.   The closest we come to coverage for the personal property damage would be the vandalism peril, but since vandalism is defined as the intentional and malicious destruction of another's property, unless we're talking about the genetically created killer mutant calf from the 2006 Screamfest Best Film winning movie Isolation, the vandalism peril doesn't apply. 

From the community weblog MetaFilter's posting Cizzows in the hizzouse come some clever and observant comments on this story:
  • 'til the cows go home
  • That picture of the cow is hilarious. It looks like she just got done with an epic, Hangover-style weekend of partying in that woman's house, was finally kicked out, but couldn't make it more than a few steps before collapsing in a stupor and calling it a day. When she wakes up she's going to have to worry about her boss seeing the pics on Facebook.
  • Reminds me to call USAA about adding the Roaming Cow rider to my renter's insurance.
  • What is the point of homeowner's insurance if it doesn't cover bovine break-ins?
  •  "I tell you, Abigail, I was udderly flabbergasted."
  • Beef flood. Like an unpredicted water flood, only with different residues, and less well defined cleanup regimes...
  • it's clear to me that this was a cowtastrophe waiting to happen
  • They broke in so easily. They must have been steaking that place out for days.
  • It was either there or the china shop, and no one felt like walking into town.
  • Organized on MeatUp, no doubt.
  • It was a grass-fed moovement.
  • I am wondering just which exclusion clause in the homeowners' insurance policy covers this. Natural calamities? Accidental damage done by household pets? Terrorism?
    Maybe acts of God? If the insurance company is based in India?
  • To err is human
    To forgive bovine.
  • She should grind them all and make hamburglars.
  • Man, I hate it when the look-out chickens out and runs away without letting everyone else in the party know that the parents are back.
  • Party 'til the cows come home, then party with the cows.
  • "Yeah, you really should've pre-applied for the additional livestock insanity insurance we just made up. I'd love to help you, but nowhere in the contract does it cover home invasion of the bovine variety. I would love to give you this pen as a token of our sympathy, though. Just so we're clear though; at no point were we obligated to give you the pen."
  • Seems her homeowner's policy doesn't account for intruding cows.
    On the other hand her policy does cover extruding cows as well as intruding crows.
  • Her insurance should cover it under vandalism. Doesn't really matter that the vandals are cows, if you ask me. I'd appeal that case.
    I also kept expecting to see another cow hiding behind an "EAT MORE CHIKIN" sign.
  • Her homeowners insurance might not cover it if the cows were hers, because it's then business related. The article isn't clear on whose cows they were or where they came from, but it does describe the place as a "farmhouse." Homeowners policies generally have a lot of exclusions pertaining to commercial activity.
    Alternately she might just have a really minimal homeowners policy that doesn't cover "all other perils" and instead only covers fire/wind/theft and other specific stuff. There are some crummy policies out there.
Really?  Is there a non-crummy policy out there that would cover this?  I don't think so but if there is, someone please enlighten me.  And Ms. Francis. 

By the way, did you know that cows with names produce more milk?  Dairy researchers in the UK found that on farms where each cow was called by her name the overall milk yield was higher than on farms where the cattle were herded as a group.  Of course, it was the swine Babe of Hollywood sheepherding fame who first discovered that herded animals respond better to politeness.

This concludes today's lesson on bovine break-in coverage.  Had they been someone else's cows, the dwelling damage probably would have been covered.  Since they apparently were the Francises' cows, however, I concur that Francis should grind them up and make hamburglars out of them.  Or fix their enclosure so they can't get out.  Hat tip to legal secretary Kathy Burns of my office for bringing this story to my attention.

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