Riot and Civil Commotion Coverage for Commercial and Residential Properties

June 5, 2020

“Riot or Civil Commotion coverage” is commonly found in residential and commercial property insurance policies. There has been a lot of uncertainty amongst business owners that have suffered property losses due to the riots in the past few days. Hopefully the following will clarify some of those concerns.

These perils cause physical damage to the buildings, personal property damage, generate large expenses, and income losses. Riot, civil commotion, and vandalism are covered perils under virtually all commercial property policies. They are covered causes of loss generally found under “specific perils” within an “all risk” policy. Unless riot, civil commotion, or vandalism are specifically excluded in the policy, these damages should be covered.

Perils Defined:

Most property policies do not actually define riot, civil commotion, or vandalism. However, the legal definition of riot can vary. The term typically means a public disturbance involving an act of violence committed by one or more individuals who are part of a group of at least three people. To constitute a riot, the individuals must act together to commit (or threaten to commit) violent acts against other people or property.

A civil commotion is similar to a riot but involves more people. It is a revolt by a large gathering of people in a public place. Riot and civil commotion can be difficult to differentiate so the perils are often listed together. Vandalism refers to the intentional destruction of another’s party’s property.

How the Courts Define the Perils:

In Blackledge v. Omega Insurance Company, four elements were necessary for a riot or civil commotion to exist: (1) Unlawful assembly of three or more people, (2) acts of violence, (3) intent to mutually assist against lawful authority and (4) public terror.

The case of Insurance Co. Of North America v. Rosenberg et al., a riot was defined as the “gathering of three or more persons” with the “common purpose” to do “an un/lawful act [with the intent to use] force or violence.”

In Pan American World Airways, Inc v Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. , the court compared the terms riot and civil commotion,

“The local nature of the perils of “riot” or “civil commotion” imparts occasional local or temporary outbreaks of unlawful violence.”

“Riots and civil commotion are purely ‘domestic disturbances.’”

They are “essentially a kind of domestic disturbance…such as occur among fellow citizens or within the limits of one community.”

In order for a disturbance to qualify as a civil commotion, “the agents causing the disorder must gather together and cause disturbance and tumult.””

General Policy Language:

Modern policies generally include the following as named or specified perils. Specified causes of loss will also have the same perils listed. All of which include riot, civil commotion, and vandalism as a covered loss.

Named Perils: fire, lightning, wind, hail, explosion, smoke, impact from aircraft and vehicles, objects falling from aircraft, strike, riot, civil commotion, vandalism, theft, attempted theft, sprinkler leakage or collapse of buildings.

“Specified Perils” or “Specified Causes of Loss” means aircraft; civil commotion; explosion; falling objects; fire; hail; leakage from fire extinguishing equipment; lightning; riot; “sinkhole collapse”; “Volcanic action”; water damage; weight of ice, snow, or sleet; and windstorm.

In most policies the damages sustained by these actions of riots or civil commotion are generally covered, however there are some policies will not fall within the majority. The easiest way to ensure that your claim is built for the best possible outcome is to refer your policy to a competent insurance professional to determine coverage for property damage or business interruption.  As a courtesy Premier Claims offers free policy reviews, if you are concerned about your policy please reach out to us for your free review.

10A Couch on Ins. § 152:6; Pan American World Airways, Inc. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 505 F.2d 989, 1019-20 (2d Cir. 1974).
Ins. Co. of N. Am. v. Rosenberg, 25 F.2d 635, 636 (2d Cir. 1928).
Blackledge v. Omega Ins. Co., 740 So.2d 295 (Miss. 1999).



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