A Reasonable Match Is Often, But Not Always, Acceptable Under Ohio Law

Three words – reasonably comparable matching – can be enough to cause an insurance headache.

It is an issue that has recently come up with increasing frequency, usually as a result of a claim by a residential homeowner or commercial property owner over storm damage to roofing or siding. The replacement siding or shingles don’t match the original, which are no longer manufactured or available to purchase.

The result is a dispute between the insured and insurer over what kind of matching is required under the policy, if any. Many policies address the issue and spell out the requirements and limits for like kind and quality. The Ohio Administrative Code also applies due to provisions of the unfair property claims settlement act under Rule 3901-1-54.

There also has been a large body of case law that has addressed how the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) applies, with Ohio courts consistently holding that a reasonable match of old and new is acceptable. Whether replacement parts are a reasonably comparable match is determined on a case-by-case basis, and various jurisdictions have adopted differing standards although generally the requirement is not so stringent as to require an exact and identical match.

In Wright v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a homeowner’s insurer who covered only repairs for the insured’s roof was not required to cover replacement of the entire roof under the OAC. If the insurer was able to replace as much of the item as to result in a reasonably comparableappearance with parts of like kind and quality, this was permissible under the policy and the OAC.

A similar result was also reached in Zinser v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co., in which the homeowner sustained a wind loss on his property and sought to have the entire siding replaced to meet the reasonably comparableappearance requirement. Citing Wright, the 12th Appellate District of Ohio held that a homeowner’s insurer that covered only repairs for the insured’s siding was not required to cover replacement of the entire building under the OAC.

To date, most Ohio courts have held that a reasonable match is permissible versus complete replacement including undamaged parts, in an effort to establish a reasonably comparable and uniform appearance.

At least one appellate decision has found that under the OAC, a reasonably comparable match may be required. In Dolecki v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., which resulted from a dispute over hailstorm damage to aluminum siding covering one side of an insureds’ residence and the insurer’s proposal to replace only the damaged side, the trial court concluded it would be unreasonable to replace damaged siding with unmatching siding. The court ruled that a reasonably comparable match was required, or all the siding needed to be replaced.

Case law aside, there are additional steps to be taken for insureds when reasonably comparable matching is in dispute. First, consider hiring a real estate appraiser to consult on whether the proposed repair would constitute a reasonable match. On a disputed claim, it could be persuasive if the matter proceeds to further dispute or litigation.

Also, review your policy carefully to determine if it includes like, kind and quality replacement provisions and what type of coverage is afforded. If the coverage is inadequate, consider upgrading the coverage – although that will cost an additional premium.