HARTFORD — The crisis of crumbling foundations and who should pay for it, has made it all the way to the State Supreme Court. The court heard three cases Tuesday.
The seven justices engaged in a back and forth with attorneys representing homeowners and Liberty Mutual Insurance.
“This court asked a simple question, and the insurance company was unable to answer it,” said Attorney Michael Parker, who represents Crumbling Foundation Homeowners.
The broad topic was crumbling foundations. But the discussion was focused on how to define the term "collapse."
“They made no attempt whatsoever to redefine the word collapse,” said Parker about Liberty Mutual.
Homeowners from Vernon and Willington are suing Liberty Mutual Insurance for breach of policy after refusing to cover the cost of foundation replacements.
“They've had to artificially shore up the house to keep it from falling into the basement,” said Parker about his clients.
During the hearing, an Attorney for Liberty Mutual Insurance said, “We're talking about houses that are standing. They are safe to live in. The may continue to be standing and safe to live in for another 50, 100, or in one case, 1,000 years. That is not a collapse.”
The court raised several questions during testimony. Among them. Should a new definition of collapse be applied retroactively to those with prior claims? Is the foundation legally considered part of a "building"?
Should coverage be limited to cases of "imminent" collapse Should the concentration of the mineral matter? And how to define "substantial structural impairment" “Substantial impairment isn't in the policy, collapse is. Whatever definition this court comes up with has to tie back to the word collapse,” said Liberty Mutual Attorneys.
Liberty Mutual says their policy excludes losses due to faulty materials suggesting the liability fall to the now defunct J.J. Mottes Construction Company who poured concrete mixed with Pyrrhotite, a mineral that breaks down when exposed to air and water.
More than 700 homeowners have notified the state they have the problem. But the Governor’s office has estimated it could impact as many as 35,000 homes in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“It's the place they have a substantial emotional attachment too,” explained Attorney Brian Danforth who represents more crumbling foundation homeowners. “Its' very difficult to sell these homes.”
Attorneys for the homeowners invoked precedent set by lower courts. Lawyers for Liberty Mutual declined to comment beyond the public hearing. The company told FOX61, “We do not publicly comment on matters in litigation.”
The justices didn't make any decisions Tuesday. In the meantime, there is some help available to homeowners. Connecticut has banned insurance companies from canceling policies, and a new homeowners insurance surcharge created a fund for repairs.
And going forward, the Army Corps of Engineers recommended regulations on quarries including testing the minerals used.