Delaware couple who lost chicken house in blizzard failed to prove insurance coverage was available, judge rules

By Karen Kidd | Nov 14, 2018

Delaware Superior Court Judge E. Scott Bradley  

WILMINGTON, Del. (Legal Newsline) – A Greenwood, Delaware, couple who sued their insurance company over the denial of their claim for loss of a new chicken house in a 2016 blizzard failed to prove snow and ice coverage was generally available to them, a state superior court judge recently ruled.

"I conclude that in this regard the plaintiffs have come up short," Delaware Superior Court Judge E. Scott Bradley said in his 15-page Oct. 29 letter about his decision in Slaubaugh Farm Inc., et al. v. Farm Family Casualty Insurance Co. "It is far too speculative to conclude Farm Family, or any other insurance company, would have ultimately provided snow-ice coverage to plaintiffs."

Farm Family's completion of a required inspection - which never happened, though an insurance agent had scheduled it - did not guarantee snow-ice coverage would have been provided in the Slaubaugh Farm's policy, Bradley said in his letter.

"If anything, the facts, even when viewed in light move favorably to the plaintiffs, do not support such a conclusion," Bradley wrote.

Bradley's letter explains his decision to grant defendant and Farm Family insurance agent Joseph C. McGowan's motion for summary judgment over allegations by plaintiffs Lambert and Sarah Slaubaugh that he negligently failed to obtain snow-ice insurance coverage for their two new chicken houses in 2015.

Slaubaugh Farm is located in Greenwood, and the couple obtained a $900,000 mortgage loan to build the two new chicken houses, according to background portions of Bradley's letter.

In his motion, McGowan argued he had no duties to acquire snow and ice coverage on behalf of the Slaubaugh Farm or to make sure Farm Family inspected the chicken houses, and that Slaubaugh Farm could not prove proximate cause because they had not shown that the snow and ice coverage was available.

"I have rejected McGowan's first two arguments and accepted his third," Bradley wrote in his letter.

Slaubaugh Farm built the two chicken houses and contacted McGowan to secure insurance coverage, according to the background portion of Bradley's letter. Farm Family issued a policy in June 2015 that did not include snow and ice coverage. Farm Family said it wouldn't issue that coverage without first inspecting the chicken houses but, despite McGowan's requests that they do so, Farm Family never made the inspections.

"McGowan apparently never checked on the status of the inspection," Bradley said in his letter.

One of the chicken houses collapsed during a blizzard in Sussex County, Delaware in January 2016, more than six months after McGowan asked Farm Family to inspect the poultry structures. After Farm Family denied the Slaubaughs' claim, the couple sued the insurance company and Gowan alleging bad faith denial of coverage.

In his motion for summary judgment, McGowan argued that the Slaubaughs had to show his alleged negligence bad been the proximate cause of their injury.

"More specifically, McGowan argues that the plaintiffs must show there was snow-ice coverage that was commercially available for their loss," Bradley wrote in his letter.

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