Homeowners purchase property insurance to protect themselves from fortuitous yet foreseeable risks, such as lightning strikes, poor electrical wiring, and perhaps, even arson by a stranger. One risk not anticipated is that one’s spouse would intentionally damage or destroy the family home. When this happens, is there coverage? This Note argues that the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District of Missouri’s decision in DePalma v. Bates County Mutual Insurance Co. establishes a per se rule of recovery that is flawed in two respects. First, it is inconsistent with the court’s claim that the policy language controlled the court’s decision; a straightforward application of rudimentary principles of insurance contract interpretation—in particular, contra proferentem—would interpret the policy language before the court as requiring full recovery. Second, the majority recovery rule overestimates one legitimate concern, the danger of collusion by spouses to profit from arson, while ignoring others, such as avoiding the punishment of victims of spousal abuse a second time via court decision, creating a disincentive for an irate spouse to burn the marital home in order to punish the other spouse, and encouraging insurance companies to clarify policy language. This Note suggests that allowing the innocent insured full recovery, unless the insurance company can prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the innocent spouse knew that the other spouse intended to damage or destroy or assisted the other spouse in damaging or destroying the insured premises, might be a better approach.

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