Insurance Business Ontario judge rules exclusion clauses as unfair

Ontario judge rules exclusion clauses as unfair Despite dismissing a plaintiff’s claim against her insurer, an Ontario judge declined to award costs to the defendant, maintaining that the insurance company’s exclusions were unfair.

In the Soczek v. Allstate trial, defendant Allstate Insurance Company of Canada successfully reasoned that damage to a plaintiff’s house after her estranged husband burned it down in an attempt to murder her did not fall under the plaintiff’s policy because of an exclusion clause.

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The clause at the heart of this case stated that Allstate would not cover damage or loss resulting from a criminal act conducted by anyone insured under the policy or damage caused by vandalism or a malicious act by a resident of the household.  Plaintiff Wieslawa “Wendy” Soczek, while not a policyholder with Allstate, was covered by the policy through her husband and thus the policy’s exclusion applied.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Morgan later dismissed Soczek’s claim in his decision. The judge, however, criticized Allstate’s exclusion, saying that the company’s “corporate conduct is less than admirable.”

“H.L.A. Hart once observed that formally legal rules can be ‘unfortunately compatible with very great iniquity’. . . This case may prove his point,” Morgan wrote in his decision.

Soczek was not looking for payment for bodily injuries she suffered from her husband, but for damages to the house, Law Times reported.

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Jan, Soczek’s husband, doused her in gasoline before he set her on fire inside their home. Although she managed to survive the criminal act with serious burns, the resulting fire caused significant damage to the property. Jan pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was given a 12-year sentence.

Morgan added in his decision that the case highlights Ontario’s lack of legislation to help innocent co-insureds.

“Several provinces have intervened to protect innocent co­insureds and have legislated this type of exclusionary clause out of existence,” the judge wrote. “And yet, Allstate continues to capitalize on it in those jurisdictions that have not seen fit to extend legislative protection to an innocent consumer such as the Plaintiff. This case graphically illustrates the compounding of injuries which Allstate’s policy imposes on victims of domestic violence.”

Related stories:
Allstate offers settlement in tragic co-insured story
Ontario MPP proposes insurance recovery legislation