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  • Unraveling the Legal Quandary: Rainwater and the Definition of “Surface Waters” in Massachusetts Insurance Policies

Unraveling the Legal Quandary: Rainwater and the Definition of “Surface Waters” in Massachusetts Insurance Policies

January 31, 2024

In the intricate realm of insurance law, the understanding of policy words can have extensive consequences. A recent provisional appeal in Massachusetts reveals an original matter: whether precipitation that gathers on a barrier roof represents "superficial waters" according to property insurance contracts.
The result of this lawful dispute between appellants Medical Properties Trust, Inc. ("MPT") and Steward Health Care System LLC ("Steward") and appellees Zurich American Insurance Company ("Zurich") and American Guarantee and Liability Insurance Company ("AGLIC") depends on the explanation of this pivotal expression.

I. The Background

The argument emerges from substantial harm endured by the Norwood Hospital Facility in Massachusetts due to intense thunderstorms in June 2020. MPT and Steward requested protection for the harm under their corresponding insurance policies with Zurich and AGLIC. The policies included "Deluge," but with restrictions on the extent of protection for such harm. The essence of the issue lies in determining whether rainfall, which accumulated on the hospital's parapet roof, fits the description of "superficial fluids" as detailed in the policies.

II. The Legal Conundrum

The understanding of "outer waters" is not a simple issue according to Massachusetts law. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ("SJC") has not previously dealt with this precise matter, and current case law does not offer a distinct response. The appellants claim that the district court made a mistake by depending on the Fidelity Co-operative Bank v. Nova Casualty Co. case, where the conversation about "outer water" was potentially irrelevant. They argue that the district court's understanding of "outer waters" veered away from the SJC's explanation and prior decisions.

III. Fidelity Co-operative Bank v. Nova Casualty Co.

The Fidelity case involved a somewhat different scenario, where water accumulated on a parapet roof, and the parties did not dispute that it was "surface water." However, the appellants argue that this acknowledgment was not a binding precedent, and the district court's reliance on it was misplaced.

IV. SJC's Precedents

The SJC decisions in Boazova v. Safety Insurance Co. and Surabian Realty Co., Inc. v. NGM Insurance Co. provide some guidance on the definition of "surface waters." These cases held that water pooled on artificial surfaces, such as a backyard patio or a paved parking lot, constituted "surface waters." However, the SJC has not explicitly addressed whether rainwater accumulated on a roof without reaching the ground falls within this definition.

V. Certification to the SJC

Recognizing the lack of clarity and controlling precedent, the federal court decided to certify the question to the SJC for resolution. The certified question seeks clarification on whether rainwater on a parapet roof constitutes "surface waters" under Massachusetts law for the insurance policies at hand. This approach allows the SJC to offer its interpretation and make policy judgments on this critical insurance coverage issue.

VI. Conclusion

The legal battle between MPT, Steward, Zurich, and AGLIC underscores the importance of precise language in insurance policies. The uncertainty surrounding the definition of "surface waters" in the context of rainwater on a parapet roof highlights the need for judicial guidance. By certifying the question to the SJC, the federal court seeks a definitive answer that will not only resolve the current dispute but also provide clarity for future cases grappling with similar issues in the realm of insurance law.

The Allied Outsourcing emerges as a critical player in the landscape of insurance-related services, especially in light of the ongoing legal dispute discussed in the blog. With a detailed understanding of assurance policy nuances and a dedication to providing all-inclusive assistance, The Allied Outsourcing is well-placed to aid clients in navigating complicated assurance claims and coverage issues.

Exploiting a wealth of industry proficiency, the corporation offers services customized to tackle the intricacies of policy interpretation, claims processing, and risk management. Whether it involves untangling the intricacies of "surface waters" definitions or providing strategic insights into insurance coverage limitations, Allied Outsourcing stands as a reliable partner for entities like Medical Properties Trust, Inc. and Steward Health Care System LLC seeking adept support in the realm of insurance-related challenges.

Through their dedicated services, The Allied Outsourcing plays a vital role in ensuring that clients are equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to navigate the evolving landscape of insurance law.

To know more, reach out to: https://thealliedoutsourcing.com/contact/

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