Pennsylvania Court Holds That Homeowner May Sue Homeowner’s Insurance Carrier For Negligence

Posted on Saturday, August 8th, 2015 at 1:09 pm    

In Bruno v. Erie, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that David Bruno and his family could bring a negligence claim against Erie Insurance, which provided them with homeowner’s insurance coverage. The Bruno family purchased a home on September 28, 2007. Upon beginning a remodel of the basement on October 5, 2007 Mr. Bruno and his contractor discovered damp areas with black mold behind the paneling and contacted Erie to initiate a claim. The Brunos reported this claim to Erie and Erie sent out a forensic engineer to investigate. The engineer told the Brunos that the mold was not an issue, and that the health concerns raised by mold were a “media frenzy” and “overblown” and were nothing to worry about. Erie did not pay out the $5,000 in coverage under the policy.

Based on assurances that the mold did not pose a health hazard, Mr. Bruno and the contractor proceeded to remove additional paneling and eradicate the mold themselves. Mr. Bruno found additional areas of mold and again an Erie agent inspected the damage but advised the Brunos that there was nothing to be concerned about.

Ultimately, the Brunos themselves discovered that there was black mold in the house. Unfortunately, by that time the Brunos were already experiencing health problems. Specifically, Angela Bruno was diagnosed with esophageal cancer that her doctor attributed to her exposure to the mold. By the time Erie insurance agreed to pay out the $5,000 in mold coverage under the policy it was too late-the Bruno’s home had to be demolished due to the mold that had gone untreated.

The Brunos brought legal action and alleged a claim of negligence against Erie in their complaint. Erie sought to dismiss the claim on the basis that it derived from Erie’s contract of insurance with the Brunos and was therefore barred by the “gist of the action” doctrine, among other things.

In a significant ruling, the court held that an insured is not barred from suing an insurer in a tort action simply because a contract exists between the two parties. The claim was based on an alleged breach of a social duty imposed by the law of torts and not a breach of a duty created by the underlying contract of insurance. Erie had allegedly violated a social duty by making false assurances regarding the toxicity of the mold and affirmatively recommending that the Brunos continue their renovation efforts, which caused them to suffer physical harm because of their reliance on those assurances.

This is a significant victory for homeowners throughout Pennsylvania who have suffered injuries or property damages as a result of the negligence of their insurance agents and professionals. If you have any questions about this decision or feel you may have a case, contact our experienced attorneys today at (215) 875-7030. The experienced attorneys at Zavodnick, Zavodnick & Lasky, LLC will help you receive the compensation and justice you deserve.

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