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08/18/94 QUADRANGLE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION v.

August 18, 1994

QUADRANGLE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, APPELLANT
v.
HARTFORD INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Robert A. Shuker, Trial Judge)

The Docket Number of this Case has been Corrected by the Court.

Before Steadman and Schwelb, Associate Judges, and Belson, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Belson

BELSON, Senior Judge: Quadrangle Development Corporation and Hartford Insurance Company dispute insurance coverage for damages arising out of a business interruption at a Hartford insured property, the Washington Grand Hyatt Hotel. *fn1 On August 20, 1989, extensive damage to one of the hotels switchboards necessitated the suspension of electric power to the hotel for twelve hours in order that repairs could be made. After a trial without jury, the trial court concluded that Hartford was not liable under the terms of the policy for this interruption because the damage was proximately caused by electric arcing, a specifically excluded cause of loss.

Quadrangle makes essentially two arguments on appeal: (1) that the trial court applied an erroneous definition of "fire" in concluding that Quadrangle failed to show that the damage was caused by fire (recovery for damage caused by fire is allowed under an exception to the exclusion for electric arcing); and (2) that the trial court improperly relied on the concept of proximate cause to render inconsequential, for the purpose of determining coverage, the failure of a "pringle" switch which, if it had operated properly, would have stopped the flow of electricity to the switchboard when the electric arcing reached a certain intensity, thereby limiting the damage by significantly reducing the duration of the business interruption.

This case was tried without a jury and, therefore, on review we will set aside the trial court's judgment only "for errors of law unless it appears that the judgment is plainly wrong or without evidence to support it." D.C. Code § 17-305 (a) (1989); see Burns v. Hanover Ins. Co., 454 A.2d 325, 328 (D.C. 1982) (trial court's interpretation of insurance contract affirmed on appeal absent a showing of error of law). Finding no such infirmity in the judgment, we affirm.

I.

The insurance contract at issue here includes a section titled "Causes of Loss -- Special Form." Therein, a number of exclusions from the insurance company's coverage are set forth. Section B.2. states in pertinent part:

We will not pay for loss or damage caused by or resulting from any of the following:

a. Artificially generated electric current, including electric arcing, that disturbs electrical devices, appliances or wires.

But if loss or damage by fire results, we will pay for that resulting loss or damage."

(Emphasis added.)

Quadrangle presented expert testimony to the effect that, within the insurance business, fire is uniformly defined as combustion with a flame or glow. Arguing that the electric arcing on the switchboard produced fire in the form of combustion with a glow, Quadrangle asserted that Hartford owes coverage for the damage claimed under the exception to the exclusion for electric arcing.

The trial court, however, was unpersuaded that the proffered insurance definition of fire was applicable, instead interpreting the contract "in light of common human experience" and employing the "common sense" definition of fire which requires the presence of a flame. Considering both the general guidelines set forth in our case law for the interpretation of insurance contracts and the ...


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