Facts of the Case
Homeowners, David and Maria Puente, made a claim for insurance benefits under their Homeowners’ Insurance Policy with Tower Hill Signature Insurance Company based upon the damage that they contended was caused by blasting emanating from a limestone quarry, White Rock Quarry, approximately 1.5 miles from their house. It was the Puentes’ contention that, although their house was constructed in 1967, cracks throughout the CMU block exterior, as well as the inside of the home, materialized in 2016, upon the encroachment of different phases of the quarry.
Presentation of Evidence
At trial, the Plaintiffs presented to the jury aerial photographs showing the gradual encroachment and expansion of the quarry towards the Puentes’ property from 2010 through 2016, and presented numerous photographs of various stages of cracking to their house. The Plaintiffs also showed the jury photographs of the home that had been taken in 2011 by Tower Hill during the underwriting of the policy, purportedly demonstrating that the cracks were not present at that time. The Plaintiffs also presented expert testimony from an engineer from Florida Testing & Environmental consultants, who argued that years of blasting, even at low energy levels, would cause fatigue in the structure, which would result in cracks to the house. Mr. Puente specifically testified that, when the blasting occurred, his entire house would shake and the cracks developed during that period of time.
In response, Defense Counsel presented, on behalf of Tower Hill, strong scientific evidence from Greg McLellan, PE, a well-researched engineer. Mr. McLellan provided an opinion based upon: 1) his own research, including a mathematical equation developed to determine the “peak particle velocity” of the type of surface waves that emanate from a blasting site, as well as 2) an extrapolation of the peak particle velocity that would strike the Puentes’ house, based upon a series of seismograph readings over the relevant period of time. Using these mathematical formulas, and based upon the distance of the quarry from the Puentes’ property, Mr. McLellan determined that the degree of the peak particle velocity of the waves would be far below the amount necessary to cause damage to the Puentes’ house as they contended. Moreover, Tower Hill also presented the expert testimony of Dennis Murphy from Rimkus Consulting Group, who testified that the cracks in the Puentes’ house were caused by natural environmental factors that are common in the state of Florida. Finally, Tower Hill argued that, even if, in the unlikely circumstance that the jury accepted the Plaintiffs’ theory that the blasting waves caused the damage found at the Puentes’ property, Tower Hill’s policy still excluded that circumstance.
After a deliberation of approximately two and a half hours, the jury sided with Tower Hill’s position and returned a verdict stating that Tower Hill had proven that the damage was excluded under the policy.