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Holsapple v. Country Mutual Insur. Co.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jasper County; the Hon. William R. Todd, Judge, presiding.


A jury in the circuit court of Jasper County returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff, George C. Holsapple, and against defendant, Country Mutual Insurance Company, in the sum of $9,928. The jury's award was remitted to $8,613, and then further reduced by $50, the amount deductible under the insurance policy. The court entered judgment in the sum of $8,563 and costs and denied defendant's post-trial motions.

On appeal, defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying the post-trial motions because plaintiff failed to prove that vandalism, the risk covered in the farm owners policy issued to plaintiff, was the cause of his loss. Defendant further contends that reversible error was committed by plaintiff's counsel's questioning of witnesses concerning irrelevant matters.

Plaintiff and his wife operated a farm approximately two miles west of Newton in Jasper County, Illinois. The farm was used, in part, for the raising of hogs in a confinement system in which the hogs were farrowed and raised entirely in enclosed structures. The environment for these structures which included a sow house, farrowing house and nursery, was controlled by heaters in the winter and electric exhaust fans which pulled in cool air in the summer.

On July 4 and 5, 1979, there were 270 hogs in plaintiff's nursery building. At approximately 4 o'clock on July 5, 1979, plaintiff was called to the nursery by his wife. When he arrived, plaintiff discovered that the lights and ventilating fans in the building were off and 197 hogs were dead. Plaintiff then flipped the breaker switches in the building and the lights and fans began operating.

After discovering the dead hogs, plaintiff telephoned Raymond Wartsbaugh, his electrician and his wife's uncle, who undertook to "check things." Plaintiff also contacted his insurance agent who came out to the farm later that evening.

On the evening of the loss, plaintiff inquired of his insurance agent as to the extent of his coverage. The hogs were insured as personal property in an insurance policy issued by defendant, Country Mutual Insurance Company. A representative of that company told plaintiff that there would be no coverage unless the loss resulted from malicious mischief or vandalism. From this discussion plaintiff first learned of the limitation in the coverage. Plaintiff thereafter called the sheriff's department to report vandalism.

Jack Landreth, a deputy sheriff, testified that he responded to a 7:45 p.m. report of "possible vandalism" on July 5, 1979, at plaintiff's farm. On cross-examination, he stated the plaintiff told him that he could not remember the position of the breaker switches. The deputy also testified that he did not find any evidence of vandalism.

Raymond Wartsbaugh testified that on July 5, 1979, plaintiff asked him to check the electricity at the nursery on the farm. Wartsbaugh stated that he checked the breakers, looked at all the wiring and pulled the amperage on all fans. He testified that he checked the electrical wiring and breaker switches with an amp meter and volt meter. His opinion was that there were no defects with the electrical system.

Approximately two weeks after the loss, defendant hired Carl Mitchell, a professional electrician, to check the wiring, switches and fans. He also used an amp meter and volt meter and found no defects.

Plaintiff testified that the temperature on the day of the loss was about 90 degrees. He stated that during January, February or March, 1978, humidity inside the nursery building caused the breakers to trip and the ventilating fans stopped operating. He further testified that on another occasion a packed feed auger caused the breaker box to trip.

Plaintiff stated that after the breakers tripped because of the high humidity, he and Raymond Wartsbaugh reworked the electrical system and hooked one fan to a breaker by itself. They felt that if anything happened that would cause a fan to go off, the other fans would continue ventilating the nursery.

Plaintiff testified that when a breaker is thrown by an electrical short it will go half way down and in order to put it back in use one must pull it down and then push it up. If the short still exists, the breaker will trip again. Plaintiff stated that when he entered the nursery he noticed that two breakers were thrown and that he pushed them up and they did not trip again. On cross-examination, plaintiff admitted that he did not know the position of the switches when he discovered the loss, but he concluded that they must have been all the way down because his electrician and one hired later by defendant did not find any defect in the electrical system.

Plaintiff acknowledged that Bill Finn and his three sons, who were erecting a grain bin, a member of the Esker Construction Company that was enlarging the sow house, and Jeff Hawkins, who delivered a load of feed to the sow house, were present on the farm on the day of the loss. Also present on the farm that day were plaintiff's wife's brother, sister-in-law and their two sons, ages eight and nine. No evidence was introduced suggesting ...

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