Questions Of Vermin and Rodents

In the fall the past several years, I've planted spring bulbs so that I have something to look forward to when the weather starts to warm up. Unfortunately, the rabbits seem to enjoy the bulbs as well. I've given up on growing crocuses since they seem to be a rabbit's favorite snack, and currently I'm working on how to keep them away from the tulips (cat fur seems to be helping).

But my adventures with the rabbits pale in comparison to the experiences some homeowners have with other creatures like skunks, squirrels, and raccoons. Every year, the questions are the same: Is a skunk a rodent and therefore excluded under the homeowners’ policy? Is there coverage for any of the damage caused by the skunk?

The standard homeowner's form excludes coverage for damage caused by vermin, rodents, birds, or insects. Birds and insects are readily identifiable; it's the rodents and vermin that cause the problem. “Rodent” is a scientific classification; according to Merriam Webster Online a rodent is any of an order (Rodentia) of relatively small gnawing mammals (as a mouse, squirrel, or beaver) that have in both jaws a single pair of incisors with a chisel-shaped edge.

Biologically speaking, every living thing is classified by Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species, so once you determine a creature's order, you know whether or not you have a rodent. For the record, skunks are not rodents, so there is coverage for skunk damage to the dwelling.

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The next question then is, Can these other animals—such as skunks and raccoons—be considered vermin? It's not unusual for someone to disparagingly call these creatures a "lousy varmint" or some such, but under policy language are they truly varmints?

Again we turn to the dictionary; where vermin are defined as “a small, common, harmful, or objectionable animals (as lice or fleas) that are difficult to control; birds and mammals that prey on game; animals that at a particular time and place compete (as for food) with humans or domestic animals.”

Notice that the example for small, difficult to control animals are lice or fleas, not skunks. Lice or fleas need to be present in large numbers in order to be a nuisance, and the creatures that homeowners are plagued by don't travel in hordes. Skunks don't prey on game or compete with humans for food, so therefore they are not vermin.

But what do you think? Are skunks, raccoons and other such animals vermin, or not? Discuss in the comments below!

 

This blog post is meant to provide insights into insurance coverage issues in general, and does not necessarily account for the differences in law and practice in different venues. As such, the opinions expressed within should not be construed as legal advice for the unique circumstances of any particular claim or suit. 

About the Author
Christine G. Barlow

Christine G. Barlow

Christine G. Barlow is an Associate Editor with FC&S Online, a sister publication of PropertyCasualty360-National Underwriter and part of Summit Business Media. She has an extensive background in insurance underwriting. She may be reached at cbarlow@sbmedia.com.

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