In a recent slip copy opinion in Duffy v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company, No. 22-4402, 2023 WL 8832416 (E.D. Pa. Dec 21, 2023) the Court denied an insurer’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The insurer contended that the insured’s claims were time barred by the statute of limitations. Further, the insurer argued that the insured was not a “resident” of the subject property which precluded coverage for her claim.

In Duffy, the insured property sustained a “devastating” fire loss. At the time of the loss, the insured reportedly was primarily residing at her daughter’s residence nearby instead of the residence premises. The insured had not lived at the residence premises full time for several years while recovering from a surgery. The insured still kept belongings at the property, paid utilities, and received mail at that address. The insured alleged that she still stayed at the property off and on but appeared to unaware that the property had fallen into a state of disrepair.

The date of the fire occurred on May 21, 2021 according to the police report. The claim was reported to the carrier on June 4, 2021 but at that time, the insured was unsure of the actual date of the fire. The insurer ultimately denied the insured’s claim concluding that the insured was not residing at the residence premises on the date of loss and for several years leading up to the fire. The denial letter issued by the carrier incorrectly listed the date of loss as June 30, 2021 instead of May 21, 2021 despite prior documents which stated that the date of loss was May 21, 2021. The insured subsequently filed a complaint against the insurer on June 28, 2022, thirty-eight (38) days after the one year statute of limitations deadline.

The Court first noted one year suit limitations are routinely held to be valid and enforceable in Pennsylvania. However, the Court determined that a genuine issue of fact existed in this case based on the incorrect date of loss listed on the denial letter. Arguably, the error on the denial letter could have led the insured to “reasonably believe” the date of loss was actually June 30, 2021, at least for purposes of suing the insurer. Thus, the Court held that it should be up to a jury to determine if the lawsuit was untimely in light of the typographical error on the denial letter.

Similarly, the Court was unpersuaded by the insurer’s arguments that the insured was not a resident of the property, as a matter of law. As discussed by the court, residency is a fact-specific determination in Pennsylvania. Thus, summary judgment on this issue was inappropriate. This result was less surprising considering residency investigations often involve weighing a number of factual circumstances.

The holding in this case should act as a reminder that even the smallest typographical error can create a ripple effect that could lead to larger implications in a case. Thus, an effort should always be made to closely review all correspondence issued in insurance investigations.

For additional questions, please contact Scott J. Tredwell, Esq., Robert J. Cahall, Esq. and/or Nicole Dovishaw, Esq.

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