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Portland Construction Litigation: The Oregon Supreme Court Redefines Your Roof

Last week, the Oregon Supreme Court issued an opinion clarifying the definition of "roof" within the meaning of a homeowner's insurance policy. The case arose from a set of homeowner's who sustained loss when their roof was water damaged during a repair process.

The homeowner was a contractor, so he undertook the repairs on his own. The first night of the project, after the roof had been stripped off the house and replaced by a temporary polyethylene plastic sheet, a serious storm loosened the plastic sheets and eventually blew them away. Rain entered the home and damaged plaintiff's property.

The homeowner's policy excluded coverage for water damage except where that damage was caused by an opening in the roof. The insurance company argued that there was no roof. It had been torn off; therefore, there could be no coverage for damage caused by an opening in the roof.

Before the Supreme Court, the insurance company argued that a "roof" must be something permanent. The Supreme Court rejected that notion, pointing out that no roof is permanent:

"[W]e note that the defendant does not offer any explanation of what 'permanent' in the context of a roof, means. It is not clear whether the defendant defines 'permanency' as one to two years, five years, ten years, or more. We find the term 'permanent,' in this context, unhelpful, and decline to set a necessarily arbitrary limit on the length of time that a roof must last in order to qualify as such. Rather, a roof should be sufficiently durable to meet its intended purpose: to cover and protect a building against weather-related risks that reasonably may be anticipated. In our view, the meaning of the term 'roof' is sufficiently plain that we need go no further to define its meaning."

The plastic sheet? Whether that constituted a 'roof' within the meaning of the Supreme Courts definition ....well, that was for a jury to decide.

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