Do this: take a piece of paper. Write down the word "vacant", and then write out a simple definition. Do the same for the word "unoccupied."
Go ahead. We'll wait. . . .
We did the same today. For "vacant" we said "empty." Like a vacant apartment. Or a vacant mind. For unoccupied we got "no one staying there." The unoccupied apartment isn't necessarily empty, it's just no one is home. Simple, right?
So if you have an insurance policy covering your home and your stuff, and it says, we won't cover you if your house is "vacant," that would mean that your house is empty, you've moved out, your Vitamix and your collection of vintage Mad magazines are now no longer en casa. You and your pets have fled. The place is a shell. Empty. Right?
We love our words as much as the next person, but we've seen insurance companies over and over again use the malleability of words to maximize profits.
Now we have a case where the insurer is refusing to pay for a nasty bit of vandalism because of a "vacancy" exclusion. The house was full of our clients' stuff; in fact, that's what we're trying to get coverage for. And the clients regularly visited. But they lived elsewhere. The house was far from vacant. But the insurer won't pay.
Luckily, we found a 70 year old California Supreme Court case which not only likes words, it respects them.
The case--which caused us to dance around our office with something close to glee today--holds that the insurer is dead wrong. Vacant does not mean unoccupied.
Vacant means, well, vacant.