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Vol. 8 - Issue 10
November 20, 2019


The Raccoon Sequel: Squirrels And Insurance Coverage

Meet “Hormone Hunter” - A Very Colorful Lawyer


In the last issue of Coverage Opinions I mentioned the recent Pennsylvania federal decision in Capital Flip, LLC v. American Modern Select Insurance Company, No. 19-180 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 19, 2019), where the court held that no coverage was owed, under a property policy, for damage caused by raccoons that had entered the interior of a structure.  The court concluded that coverage was barred as the damage was not caused by the covered peril of vandalism or malicious mischief: “Raccoons and their companions in the animal kingdom,” the court concluded, “cannot formulate the intent needed to engage in ‘vandalism,’ ‘malicious mischief’ or any other criminal or actionable conduct. Animals do not have conscious agency and are not subjects of human law.” 

I was delighted to get a note from Coverage Opinions reader Arnold Young, of HunterMaclean in Savannah, Georgia, bringing to my attention a wonderful coverage decision from 1954 from the Court of Appeals of Georgia.  It’s not about raccoons – but squirrels. The court found that coverage was owed for damage to a playhouse caused by a squirrel.  Why?  Because the court had fuzzy feelings for the critter.

The decision is a gem.  I’ll get to that in a second.  But that’s just half the story.  Arnold shared with me that the insured was represented by his former partner – Colonel E. Ormonde Hunter, who served in WWII and was part of the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA. 

Hunter was quite a character, Arnold told me.  An absolute gentleman, but tough.  He was in the Georgia state legislature and served as vice-chairman of the Board of Regents of Georgia’s state university system.

Known as a bon vivant, Hunter was married for the first and only time at age 65 and, according to Arnold, known around Savannah as “Hormone Hunter.”  As Arnold put it, “Only Colonel Hunter would provide a recipe for squirrel stew in an appellate brief.”  The Colonel died in 1989 at about age 95.
The court’s decision in North British & Mercantile Insurance Company v. Mercer, 82 S.E.2d 41 (Ga. Ct. App. 1954), aff’d 84 S.E.2d 570 (Ga. 1954) speaks volumes about Colonel Hunter.

A squirrel descended the chimney of an insured’s playhouse and damaged a maple table, chair, brass lamp, lampshades and sofa cushions.  Coverage was sought under a policy that insured “all risks or loss of or damage to property” except “loss or damage caused by moth, vermin and inherent vice.”

The insurer disclaimed coverage on the basis that a squirrel is vermin.  Suit was filed and the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff for the amount sued for -- $179.50 -- plus $50 attorney fees for bad faith.

The Georgia appeals court affirmed the verdict by agreeing with Colonel Hunter that squirrels have much to offer society:

“The brief of counsel for the defendant in error (which, incidentally, includes an excellent recipe for squirrel stew) concludes with the following words, with which this court is inclined to agree: “‘Vermin’ is a mighty harsh word to hurl at our little friend the squirrel. He has long been well considered and much thought of as a pet and an attractive addition to the scenery of any city, garden, or country yard. He is praised in song and story as a shining example to mankind of industry and thrift.  It is respectfully submitted that this court should not label the little fellow as nothing more that ‘vermin.’”

Thank you to Arnold Young, of HunterMaclean, for bringing this great case and colorful lawyer to my attention.    


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