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Florida Fourth DCA rules that rusting water pipe was an “act of nature” subject to exclusion from coverage under homeowner’s insurance policy

On June 2, 2021, in Dodge v. People’s Trust Insurance Company, No. 4D20-1199, the Florida Fourth DCA ruled that a water damage exclusion in a homeowner’s insurance policy excluding coverage for water damage “caused by or resulting from human or animal forces or any act of nature” applied to water damage caused by rust or corrosion in the water pipes. The phrase “act of nature” was not defined in the policy. The plaintiff homeowner argued that the phrase was synonymous with the phrase “act of God,” relying on a Florida circuit court decision in which the circuit judge cited Black’s Law Dictionary to find the two phrases synonymous. See Mitchell v. People’s Tr. Ins. Co., No. 19000514CA, 2020 WL 863675, at *1 (Fla. 12th Cir. Ct. Jan. 30, 2020). The circuit court in Mitchell relied on this definition and held: “Unlike an act of nature, which is an exceptional, unpreventable event, wear and tear, corrosion and deterioration, are not exceptional events, but rather, they are ordinary and expected processes that result from reasonable use of the plumbing system over time.” Mitchell, 2020 WL 863675, at *3. The Fourth DCA disagreed, concluding that the ordinary meaning of the term “act of nature” is something that naturally occurs which does not necessarily require an uncontrollable or unpreventable event.

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