TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Kreis White on Sep 28, 2015

Court: TN Court of Appeals


Autumn LaCarla Gentry and Thomas M. Donnell, Jr., Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Shelter Mutual Insurance Company.

Sonya S. Wright, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Joshua E. Burnett, Tampa, Florida, for the appellees, Keith and Kimberly Patterson.


This is an action by homeowners against the insurance company that provided their homeowners? insurance coverage. At issue is whether the insurer violated Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-130(b) (2006) by failing to make available coverage for insurable sinkhole losses and whether the physical damage to the home was caused by “sinkhole activity.” When the insurer denied coverage, Plaintiffs commenced this action alleging, inter alia, that the insurer breached the policy and acted in bad faith when it refused to pay their claim. Plaintiffs also sought to hold the insurer liable for violating Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-130(b) because the insurer did not notify Plaintiffs that sinkhole coverage was an available option. At the time of the occurrence, the statute stated: “Every insurer offering homeowner property insurance in this state shall make available coverage for insurable sinkhole losses on any dwelling, including contents of personal property contained in the dwelling, to the extent provided in the policy to which the sinkhole coverage attaches.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-130(b) (emphasis added). It is undisputed that the insurer did not notify Plaintiffs that sinkhole coverage was available. The insurer filed a motion for summary judgment contending that Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-130 did not require it to notify Plaintiffs that sinkhole coverage was an available option. The insurer also denied the factual assertion that sinkhole activity caused the loss and asserted that it was not liable because, if sinkhole activity caused the damage, the policy contained an exclusion for such an occurrence. Plaintiffs filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing that they were entitled to a judgment that the insurer had violated Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-130 and that their insurance policy did not exclude coverage for the damage to their home. The trial court granted Plaintiffs? motion with respect to Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-130, concluding it was undisputed that the insurer “did nothing to make the Plaintiffs aware of the sinkhole endorsement and, therefore, did not meet the requirements of [Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-130].” The trial court denied summary judgment on all remaining issues concluding that material facts were disputed concerning the cause of the damage to Plaintiffs? home. On appeal, we reverse the grant of summary judgment to Plaintiffs based on Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-130 and remand with instructions to grant summary judgment to the insurer on that issue because the statutory language, “make available,” does not require insurers to give notice that sinkhole coverage is available. We affirm the trial court?s denial of summary judgment concerning whether the loss at issue is excluded from coverage because, as the trial court correctly found, material facts are in dispute.

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