MN homeowners win storm damage fight with insurers

A decision this week by the Minnesota Supreme Court will never make the news but it’s significant for anyone in Minnesota with siding that might get damaged in a hailstorm.

The court has ruled that an insurance company has to replace all of the siding, not just the damaged portions, in cases where there might be a color mismatch.

And there usually is since it’s fairly impossible to make new siding match old siding.

The court ruled in the case of the Cedar Bluff Townhomes, where more than 20 buildings were damaged by a hail storm in October 2011. The insurance company — American Family Insurance — didn’t dispute that there was damage, but it cited a clause that’s standard in homeowner policies to claim that it only had to replace the damaged siding with new siding “of comparable material and quality.”

The court agreed with the Court of Appeals which ruled that “of comparable material and quality” means the color has to match with the undamaged siding.

“When interpreting insurance contracts, the policy must be construed as a whole, beginning with the plain and ordinary meaning of the policy’s terms, as well as ‘what a reasonable person in the position of the insured would have understood the words to mean,'” Justice Alan Page wrote in the decision.

American Family concedes that the policy requires some degree of color match, noting that it cannot meet its obligation by paying for red siding on an otherwise yellow building because “no reasonable person would conclude that red siding is comparable to yellow siding.” We agree.

On the other hand, the plain meaning of the phrase ‘comparable material and quality’ is material that is suitable for matching. Thus, we conclude that on the spectrum of resemblance, “comparable material and quality” requires something less than an’identical color match, but a reasonable color match nonetheless.

Related: Minn. Homeowners Combat Insurance Companies over Storm Damage Claims (KSTP TV)