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Whitt v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company

July 07, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 96--L--0586 Honorable Patrick J. Dixon and Pamela K. Jensen, Judges, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

Defendant and counterplaintiff, State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (State Farm), appeals from the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs and counterdefendants, Stuart L. and Rebecca A. Whitt, and the court's denial of its motion for summary judgment. We reverse.

State Farm provided homeowners' insurance to the Whitts since 1977. On July 17-18, 1996, a massive rainstorm dropped almost 17 inches of rain in the Aurora, Illinois, area. During that storm, water entered the Whitts' home in Aurora around the basement window casings, through a hole in the furnace room wall, under doors to the house and the garage, and through the roof and a skylight. Eventually, water filled the entire basement of the home and the first floor to a depth of over four feet. The Whitt family left the home via boat and canoe.

The Whitts filed a claim with State Farm under the homeowners' policy then in effect. On August 10, 1996, State Farm paid the Whitts $1,432.86 for water damage resulting from rain entering the home through the roof and skylight. However, coverage was denied for the remainder of the claim.

On November 27, 1996, the Whitts filed a six-count complaint against State Farm and their State Farm agent, seeking to recover for the water damage to their home. Counts I through V were brought against State Farm alleging breach of contract (count I), estoppel (count II), consumer fraud (count III), common-law fraud (count IV), and bad faith (count V). Count VI alleged negligence against the Whitts' insurance agent. State Farm filed a counterclaim seeking a declaratory judgment that the Whitts' homeowners policy did not provide coverage for the water damage alleged in the Whitts' complaint and that State Farm was not obligated to pay for water damage to the Whitts' home. After an exchange of discovery, the Whitts and State Farm filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court denied State Farm's motion but granted the Whitts' motion for summary judgment as to the counterclaim, ordering that State Farm was estopped from asserting the water damage exclusion of the homeowners' policy in the cause of action. The Whitts' motion for summary judgment as to counts I, II, III, and V of their complaint was denied. State Farm's motion to reconsider was denied, and, on May 24, 1999, the trial court entered a final order of judgment on counts I and II of the Whitts' complaint in the principal amount of $168,377. Counts III through VI were dismissed with prejudice. This appeal followed.

The homeowners' policy at issue provided in relevant part:

"2. We do not insure under any coverage for any loss which would not have occurred in the absence of one or more of the following excluded events. We do not insure for such loss regardless of: (a) the cause of the excluded event; or (b) other causes of the loss; or (c) whether other causes acted concurrently or in any sequence with the excluded event to produce the loss; or (d) whether the event occurs suddenly or gradually, involves isolated or widespread damage, arises from natural or external forces, or occurs as a result of any combination of these:


c. Water Damage, meaning:

(1) flood, surface water, waves, tidal water, overflow of a body of water, or spray from any of these, all whether driven by wind or not;

(2) water from outside the plumbing system that enters through sewers or drains, or water which enters into and overflows from within a sump pump, sump pump well or any other system designed to remove subsurface water which is drained from the foundation area; or

(3) natural water below the surface of the ground, including water which exerts pressure on, or seeps or leaks through a building, sidewalk, driveway, foundation, swimming pool or other structure. However, we do insure for any direct loss by fire, explosion or theft resulting from water damage, provided the resulting loss is itself a Loss Insured."

In his deposition, Stuart Whitt testified that he received a brochure describing the "State Farm Homeowners Extra" (Homeowners Extra) insurance policy in 1982, when he and his wife purchased the home involved in this case. Stuart testified that he looked at the picture on the front of the brochure and, inside the brochure, at drawings of the different coverages provided by Homeowners Extra and the captions beneath them. The brochure contained a series of 35 captioned drawings depicting the coverages contained in the Homeowners Extra policy. The only water-related pictures included in this series were "Water damage," which depicts rain falling through an open window and puddling on a floor; "Windstorm, Hail"; "Weight of ice, snow or sleet"; "Freezing of plumbing system"; "Tearing or bulging of water heating appliances"; and "Water escape from plumbing, heating, air conditioning systems or household appliances." Immediately below the series of drawings, in bold black print larger than the print used in the captions, the brochure stated:

"This brochure contains only a general description of coverages and is not a statement of contract. All coverages are subject to the exclusions ...

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