On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Docket No. L-2343-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Messano and Kennedy.
Plaintiffs Steven and Donna Grossberg appeal from a February 18, 2011 order of the Law Division granting summary judgment to defendant Chubb Insurance Company of New Jersey (Chubb) and dismissing with prejudice their complaint for insurance coverage. The conflict between the parties is not factual, but rather arises from differences in the parties' interpretation of the language in the Chubb insurance policy and their arguments pertaining to the applicability of the policy to the loss at issue.
Plaintiffs own a single family home situated on the bay in Beach Haven. They purchased the property in 1987, and demolished ninety percent of the existing structure which they then re-built to their own specifications. They use the property as a seasonal vacation home.
The structure is a single story wood-framed house sheathed in plywood and finished with horizontal cedar siding. There are upper level loft areas on either end of the house. By all accounts, plaintiffs maintained the house well and painted it every four years. Plaintiffs never saw, nor were they otherwise aware of, any water intrusion within the house.
In late August or early September 2009, Steven Grossberg noticed some loose cedar siding on the exterior of the house and asked a local contractor to examine and repair the siding. The contractor removed some of the siding "and discovered that the framing beneath the siding, hidden from view, was either severely compromised or not visible at all."
The contractor then asked an architect, Richard P. Luthringer, to inspect the house. In an initial letter dated September 28, 2009, Luthringer reported seeing "damages" to exterior framing, sill plates, rim joists and the "tails" of the floor joists and stated "[m]uch of the framing which is still present has been compromised by the elements." He explained that because the house was situated on the bay and is "constantly subjected to high wind", it was in "imminent danger of collapse" due to the damages, and required support.
Plaintiffs arranged to have the house temporarily shored-up by their contractor and notified Chubb on October 7, 2009, they were making a claim under their Chubb "Masterpiece" policy which was in effect for the period December 10, 2008, to December 10, 2009. Chubb immediately hired Glenn P. Rentschler, Ph.D., P.E., to examine the property, and he undertook that examination on October 8, 2009, in the presence of a Chubb adjuster, as well as Steven Grossberg and his contractor.
In a report issued October 16, 2009, Rentschler found "varying degrees of wood decay" within the structure. He explained,
At the exterior location along the right front wall, severe decay has caused significant deterioration of the plywood sheathing, the wall studs, the rim joist, and multiple floor joists. The decay has significantly reduced the load carrying capacity of the wall system, introducing a potential for localized collapse. . . . At another location on the rear of the house, slightly less extensive, but nonetheless severe, decay is also present.
He added that "evidence of decay" was found at most probe locations, and that the temporary shoring undertaken ...