Mice, rats, roaches, rabbits, snakes, turtles, bats, foxes, pigeons, owls, raccoons, skunks, carpet beetles, squirrels, bed bugs…. What do these critters have in common? They have all been cited as “vermin” in claim denials that I’ve consulted on. Recently, someone brought yet another skunk claim to my attention that was denied based on a “vermin” exclusion:

Smell ya later: Insurer denies claim for skunk odor in home

Over the past 30 years, I have been involved in dozens of animal claims. Some of them were clearly not covered by policies that specifically excluded rodents (mice, rats, squirrels, etc.), birds (pigeons, owls, etc.), and insects (roaches, carpet beetles, bed bugs, etc.). But what about rabbits, snakes, turtles, bats, foxes, raccoons, skunks, and other animals that are not rodents, birds, or insects?

As a result of several years of dealing with denied claims for these types of critters, all under the banner of “vermin,” I did some research and wrote an article for the Big “I” Virtual University. The article is publicly available here:

What Is A ‘Vermin’?

Without belaboring the point (you can read the article yourself and I recommend printing or saving it for future reference), I could not find a single precedent-setting case that upheld the “vermin” exclusion for animals that were not rodents or insects. Court after court had determined that the word “vermin” was subject to more than one reasonable interpretation and was, therefore, ambiguous.

As a result, the Big “I” Technical Affairs Committee asked ISO to remove “vermin” as an exclusion in their homeowners policies and they acquiesced, adopting the language that had been in their commercial property forms for years.

All of this is explained in the article linked above, so I won’t repeat the details here. In addition, if you do have access to the password-protected articles on the Big “I” VU, search for “skunk” and you’ll find another article specifically on that topic.

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Bill Wilson

Founder at InsuranceCommentary.com
One of the premier insurance educators in America on form, coverage, and technical issues; Founder and director of the Big “I” Virtual University; Retired Assoc. VP of Education and Research from Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. Reprint Request Information