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Coates v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.

July 30, 1999

MICHAEL AND AMY COATES,
PLAINTIFFS,
V.
LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE CO.,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge:

HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE

OPINION

This matter is before the court on the motion of defendant, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. ("Liberty Mutual"), for summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(b). Liberty Mutual argues that plaintiffs, Michael and Amy Coates, failed to commence this action within the one-year limitations period of the homeowners insurance policy at issue in this case. Because the court agrees that plaintiffs' action is untimely, the court grants Liberty Mutual's motion for summary judgment and dismisses plaintiffs' Complaint with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

From February 14, 1996 through February 14, 1997, Liberty Mutual provided homeowners insurance coverage to plaintiffs for their home in Haddon Township, New Jersey, pursuant to a "LibertyGuard Deluxe Homeowners Policy." (Defendants' Ex. A.) The policy contained a limitations clause that provides that any action against Liberty Mutual must be commenced within one year of the date of loss. (Id. at pg. 24.)

On or about May 18, 1997, plaintiffs discovered that their porch was collapsing and that their steps were crumbling under the pressure of the porch. On June 6, 1997, plaintiffs contacted Liberty Mutual by telephone to make a claim for coverage under their homeowners policy. Thereafter, Liberty Mutual sent an engineer to inspect the damage to plaintiffs' home.

By letter dated July 31, 1997, Liberty Mutual denied coverage of plaintiffs' claim. In closing the letter, Liberty Mutual's claims representative advised:

If you have any questions concerning your claim or have other information which may change our coverage decision, please feel free to contact me. (Plaintiff's Ex. D.)

Before receiving Liberty Mutual's July 31, 1997 letter disclaiming coverage for their claim, plaintiffs had hired a contractor to investigate the damage, ascertain the cause and provide them with an estimate of the cost of repairing the problem. They also had hired an engineer to conduct an examination. On August 7, 1997, plaintiffs hired a public adjuster to represent them in discussions with Liberty Mutual about their claim for coverage. That day, the public adjuster wrote to Liberty Mutual to advise of its involvement in the matter. (Plaintiffs' Ex. G.)

By letter dated September 17, 1997, Liberty Mutual sent the public adjuster a copy of the July 31, 1997 letter denying coverage of plaintiffs' claim and advising that its "coverage decision has been explained to [plaintiffs], and stands." (Plaintiffs' Ex. H.)

By letter dated October 13, 1997, the public adjuster advised Liberty Mutual that plaintiffs intended to challenge Liberty Mutual's decision to disclaim coverage. The public adjuster enclosed copies of the report prepared by the engineer plaintiffs had retained and requested Liberty Mutual to review the report. The public adjuster indicated that it would contact Liberty Mutual's claims representative by telephone to discuss the contents of the engineer's report. (Plaintiffs' Ex. I.)

By letter dated November 13, 1997, the public adjuster complained to Liberty Mutual that Liberty Mutual had not responded to the public adjuster's correspondence of October 13, 1997. The public adjuster asserted in the letter that Liberty Mutual was required to provide a written response under the unfair claims practices act. (Plaintiffs' Ex. K.)

By letter dated December 2, 1997, Liberty Mutual responded to the public adjuster's November 13, 1997 letter, advising that its engineer was reviewing the report of plaintiffs' engineer and that Liberty Mutual would respond in writing once its engineer completed his review of plaintiffs' engineer's report. (Plaintiffs' Ex. M.)

By letter dated January 2, 1998, Liberty Mutual reiterated its denial of coverage of plaintiffs' ...


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