Does Arson Constitute Vandalism?

I represented a Memphis homeowner a couple of years ago whose residential rental property was destroyed by fire. The policy provided coverage for fire loss, but contained an exclusion for "vandalism and malicious mischief  . . . if the dwelling has been vacant for more than 30 days immediately before the loss."  In our case, it was undisputed that the house had been vacant for more than 30 days at the time of the fire, which was intentionally set by an unknown third person.  These undisputed facts left one unanswered question - - does arson constitute vandalism or malicious mischief?  If so, there would be no coverage for the claim. If not, then the claim should be paid in full.

After summary judgment briefing, Chancellor Armstrong in Shelby County ruled that arson isn't necessarily the same thing as vandalism or malicious mischief.  Noting the split of authority across the country, Chancellor Armstrong ultimately ruled that fire is a separate peril from vandalism and malicious mischief, and that arson was not included within the exclusion applying to losses caused by vandalism or malicious mischief.  Accordingly, the court granted my client's motion for summary judgment and the case was concluded, marking another victory for insureds in Tennessee.

Download a copy of Chancellor Armstrong's Order by clicking here