Producers and carriers in New York may be working with a vandalism definition broader than the one they are used to, after the state’s top appeals court ruled that “malicious conduct” isn’t necessary to trigger vandalism coverage.
The New York Court of Appeals held that Penn-Star Insurance Co. is obligate to provide coverage for a four-story apartment building that sustained damages from excavation work done on a neighboring parking garage, despite the fact that the damage wasn’t intentionally inflicted.
“We see no reason why the term ‘vandalism’ should be limited to acts ‘directed specifically at the covered property,’” said the court in its opinion. “Vandalism, as the term is ordinarily understood, need not imply a specific intent to accomplish any particular result.”
Penn-Star’s insurance policy agreed to cover vandalism damages, but defined vandalism as “willful and malicious damage to, or destruction of, the described property.”
The Court of Appeals’ holding marks a departure from the federal district court’s previous decision, which held that the excavators didn’t commit vandalism because their actions didn’t involve malicious intent towards Georgitsi Realty, the owner of the apartment building and policyholder with Penn-Star.
The court also said that because the excavators’ actions were “willful or wanton,” they qualified as vandalism and not accidental damage.
In a partial dissent, Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam advocated the traditional reading of the term, saying malicious intent is key in determining acts of vandalism.