Battishill v. Farmers Alliance Ins. Co – Case Brief Summary (New Mexico)

In Battishill v. Farmers Alliance Ins. Co., 2004 NMCA 109, 136 N.M. 288, 97 P.3d 620, 623 (N.M. Ct. App.), cert. granted, 100 P.3d 198 (N.M. 2004), the court rejected the insurer's argument that vandalism included arson, at least "in the context of dwelling insurance, purchased to insure against the dreaded risk of fire." Id. at 624.

The Battishill Court concluded instead that, "to the ordinary and reasonable homeowner . . . vandalism means something much different from arson." Id.

The court began its analysis with the word "vandal," which has as its origin a fifth century Germanic group that ravaged France, Spain, and North Africa before sacking Rome in 455 A.D., destroying monuments of art and literature. Id.

The court reasoned, then, that "vandalism" is the "'spirit or conduct of the Vandals,'" and is "synonymous with hooliganism and malicious mischief." Id. .

The court further recognized that "many, if not most, ordinary citizens and reasonable insureds . . . think of arsonists and vandals, and arson and vandalism, as distinct actors and acts." Id. at 625.

For these reasons, the Battishill Court concluded that "vandalism in a dwelling left vacant for thirty days is more likely to mean damage that is not devastating, but rather to mean damage from someone breaking windows, breaking in to see what is inside, and/or to do indiscriminate damages by defacing walls, pulling fixtures out, scarring floors, bashing artifacts, harming items of art or priceless objects, and similar types of behavior, not intentionally setting the dwelling ablaze for its total and very substantial destruction." Id.