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Homeowners insurance policies have their limits.

Buying a new home

Sometimes life just is not fair. You think you have done everything absolutely right and then circumstances show you everything is turning out wrong. So it is that you get to see the end of hope played out in court cases. You know it should never come to this but, when it comes to people's lives, there are few real choices if you feel you want justice. You do your best to be reasonable. You offer to settle. But the other side just fights on. It all comes down to willpower. Whoever is strongest will be left standing.

We need to go back to a time before the recession. This was a time of great optimism. People were getting married and planning their families around the idea of buying a new home. The first home would be the perfect nest for their first child. Property values would continue to rise and, as the family grew, they would keep trading up and cashing in their positive housing equities. This one family found a new estate just starting to build. They signed a contract in which the builder said it would deliver a residence in "a perfect condition". There was also a set of minimum warranties imposed through the New Home Warranty Act of 1986 in Louisiana. As a third string to their bow, there was a home insurance policy. During a tropical storm, the roof leaked and the carpets were soaked. What the couple did not realize is that the water triggered the growth of a toxic mold behind the leaking walls. Their newborn baby's health was permanently damaged by this mold and, during the resulting stresses and strains of medical treatment and disputes with the builders and the insurance company, their marriage collapsed.

In court, the three members of the family now claim for their losses. The parents claim for the loss of value in the property and the failed marriage. Their daughter claims for personal injuries. Midway through, the builder's insurance company agrees to pay out on the loss in value of the house caused by the defective workmanship. In the end, the parent's claim for failed marriage is dismissed because it was caused by the poor construction of their home and that claim was settled. The first moral to this story is that you can only make two claims when they are independent of each other. If one claims flows naturally from another, settling one means losing the other. But the daughter can claim because she was not a party to any of the contracts. Her remedy is in negligence for personal injuries. The builder and insurers are therefore looking at third party liability and that falls within the scope of the homeowners insurance policy.

Unintentionally, the court has done the right thing. It has protected the interests of a baby whose life was wrecked by defective workmanship. It has approved the payment to the parents for the loss in value when the property became uninhabitable. But dismissed their claim because the marriage collapsed. These things happen and, unless in exceptional circumstances, they are not covered by homeowners insurance policies. The only problem is that, in arriving at this result, the parents are liable to pay the builder's and the insurers' costs. In effect, therefore, they get nothing out of all the stress of events and their legal consequences. Supposedly, they will be wiser for this experience.

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