This browser is not actively supported anymore. For the best passle experience, we strongly recommend you upgrade your browser.
| 1 minute read

The Importance of Standards of Review: A Tornado Is Not a “Windstorm”

A recent Texas case shows the importance of providing clear and unambiguous policy language. In Mankoff v. PURE, the insureds negated an otherwise applicable deductible by successfully arguing that the term “windstorm” was ambiguous and did not include a tornado. 

In Mankoff, the insureds filed a homeowner's claim totaling $748,858.19 after their home sustained severe damage from a tornado. The insurer only partially paid the claim, asserting that the insured had to pay a deductible for losses caused “directly or indirectly by windstorm.” The insureds later sued, arguing that the windstorm deductible was not triggered because tornadoes and windstorms are distinct meteorological events.

At summary judgment, the trial court ruled for the insurer, determining that the term "windstorm" unambiguously includes tornadoes. On appeal, the Texas Court of Appeals reversed, finding the term "windstorm" ambiguous. The court reasoned that “windstorm” could be reasonably interpreted as including or excluding tornadoes based on definitions provided by the parties. The court noted the insureds’ interpretation was reasonable because it was supported by both expert testimony and state insurance code provisions. 

In reaching its conclusion, the court emphasized that insurance policy exclusions must be strictly construed against the insurer when the policy contains ambiguous language. Accordingly, once the court determined the term “windstorm” is ambiguous, the insurer could not prevail, despite most people’s intuitive understanding of that term. 

Although the Texas Court of Appeals’ decision seems unintuitive at first glance, this case underscores the importance of clear and unambiguous language in insurance policies. Retaining experienced counsel to assist in reviewing policies can help an excess insurer craft clear language that limits risks and saves costs. If you would like to speak to an attorney about litigation you have, or if you have questions about the content of this update, please contact Seslee Smith, Ryan Burke, or Nathan Miles.


litigation, insurance & reinsurance, insurance & reinsurance dispute resolution, insurance coverage, insurance