Appellate court affirms trial court ruling in suit between property owners, State Farm Lloyds over hail damage

By Takesha Thomas | Jan 8, 2019

HOUSTON – A state appeals court has affirmed a trial court's ruling involving a breach of contract claim filed against State Farm over a claim for hail damage.

In a Dec. 31 opinion, the Court of Appeals for the 1st District of Texas affirmed a 269th District Court of Harris County ruling that found no breach of contract but awarded Charles and Cecelia Wall damages for their insurance code claim against State Farm Lloyds and rendered a take-nothing judgment.

The Walls had filed suit against State Farm over allegations of breach of contract and insurance code violations. After the trial court found that the Walls were not entitled to judgment based on insurance code violations, they filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) challenging the trial court's ruling under the legal-sufficiency standard.

"We have not found any reversible error in the trial court’s judgment," Justice Laura Carter Higley wrote.

In their appeal, the Walls claimed the trial court erred when it denied their motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the jury’s response to their breach-of-contract liability question; that they were entitled to a judgment on their insurance-code violations claim; and requested that the courts remand the case for a new trial.

State Farm argued that the Walls' "notice of appeal challenged only an unappealable order, the denial of a motion for new trial, and not the appealable final judgment in the case," according to a concurring opinion by Justice Michael Massengale.

Massengale agreed. 

"Based on evidence presented to the jury that the Walls’ claimed physical loss to the dwelling on the property was not caused by wind or hail damage, I conclude that the trial court properly declined to grant JNOV on the contract claim," he wrote.

The Walls filed a property insurance claim for damage to their roof in April 2013 with State Farm, their home insurer, after a hailstorm struck the area. According to the opinion, State Farm denied the claim initially. A second appraiser was sent to the home in December 2013 by State Farm. That appraiser found "hail damage and recommended repairing the entire roof," Higley wrote.

"State Farm estimated that the cost of replacement minus depreciation and the Walls’ deductible resulted in $6,878.87 owed under the policy," Higley wrote.

State Farm also issued a second check for $851.47, which the insurance company determined was owed "as a penalty based on its determination that it had violated “subchapter B of Chapter 542 of the Texas Insurance Code,” Higley wrote.

The Walls, however, claim that the damages to the home were much greater. They claimed they were owed $65,994.95 more, plus attorneys’ fees. The Walls claimed the hailstorm also caused damage to their fence and garage door.

A third inspection was conducted by State Farm, which denied that any additional money was owed.

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