Recently, in a fire loss case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court revisited the question of the number of occurrences. In Secura Insurance v. Lyme St. Croix Forest Company, LLC, 918 N.W.2d 885 (Wis. 2018), the issue of multiple occurrences arose. Under the facts of the case, a fire started in a piece of logging equipment owned by the insured. The flames from the fire spread from dry grass to a pile of recently felled jack pine and then into the surrounding forest. Eventually, the fire had burned thousands of acres over the course of three days. There was both real and personal property loss to many individuals and businesses. Secura Insurance, the insured’s liability insurance company, brought a declaratory judgment action to establish that the fire involved a single occurrence subject to the policy’s $500,000 per occurrence limit, as opposed to the policy’s $2 million aggregate limit. The trial court found against Secura. The trial court found that each property owner’s claim qualified as a separate occurrence and, therefore, Secura’s total liability under the policy was the aggregate limit. The intermediate appellate court agreed with the trial court. However, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court found that when a fire was caused by a single identifiable event, it would constitute a single occurrence, irrespective of how many real property boundary lines the fire had crossed. The Court reasoned that in determining the number of occurrences question, the Court needed to take into account the elements of time and geography and that a single occurrence takes places if the cause and result are so simultaneous or closely linked in time and space as to be considered a single event by the average person. The Court found that the fire had a single identifiable cause, i.e., fire in the logging equipment such that there was only a single occurrence under the policy.