In previous weeks, something has directed my attention to a certain state on which to focus while surveying the total loss standards across the country. This week, in doing some research for a client, I came across an interesting case dealing with total loss in Wisconsin.
In 1880, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin faced construing an insurance policy following a fire loss. While also dealing with procedural and homestead issues, the court reviewed the jury’s decision that the building was a total loss – or “wholly destroyed” as the Wisconsin Supreme Court put it. At trial,
[T]he jury found that no portion of the brick walls of the building remaining after the fire could be used in rebuilding it; that the foundations so remaining were not sufficient to support a building of the weight and dimensions of the one burned; that the expense of removing the worthless fragments of the old building would at least equal the value of all material left after the fire; and that such materials were worth less than the cost of getting them out of the wreck of the burned building.1
The Court held,
[W]e cannot hesitate to hold that these findings show that the building in question was wholly destroyed…
However, it also stated that it did not want to,
[D]efine what constitutes a total destruction of a building, or to lay down a rule applicable to other cases.
While this is somewhat problematic going forward, it gives a firm basis from which to work when dealing with total losses in Wisconsin. Nine years later, the Supreme Court again looked at a fire loss and held,
The evidence is that all the combustible material in the structures was destroyed, and, although portions of the brick walls were left standing, yet they were useless as walls, and many, perhaps most, of the bricks therein were spoiled by the heat. It cannot be doubted that the identity and specific character of the insured buildings were destroyed by the fire, although there was not an absolute extinction of all the parts thereof. This was an entire destruction of the buildings.2
This holding was not qualified like the first and, therefore, is more consequential.
Tune in next week for yet another look at total loss.
1Harriman v. Queen Ins. Co. of London & Liverpool, 5 N.W. 12 (Wis. 1880).
2Seyk v. Millers’ Nat. Ins. Co., 74 Wis. 67 (Wis. 1889).