Judge rules for insurer in dispute over church’s damaged pipe organ

By Rich Peters | Apr 11, 2019

ST. LOUIS – A federal judge ruled in favor of an insurer who claimed they were not liable for issuing coverage of a church organ damaged during maintenance by a third-party contractor.

GuideOne Mutual Insurance Company asserted that their insurance policy and coverage of the Cote Brilliante Presbyterian Church’s pipe organ “expressly excludes damage sustained in the course of any repair or maintenance work.”

“We will not pay for loss or damage caused by or resulting from any of the following . . . Faulty, inadequate or defective . . . (2) Design, specifications, workmanship, repair, construction, renovation, remodeling, grading, compaction . . . or (4) Maintenance; of part or all of any property on or off the described premises,” the policy states.

Between 2012 and 2016, the Church hired Christopher Kiepper to perform maintenance on its pipe organ. During the course of that work Mr. Kiepper damaged the organ in the amount of $700,000, according to court filings.

In February of 2018, the Church submitted the claim to GuideOne for coverage under the policy, which the insurer refused to pay, filing an action of declaration of no coverage due to the breach of the coverage’s liability contract. 

The Church responded by filing a counterclaim, citing “vexatious refusal and bad faith.” GuideOne then sought leave to file a motion for summary judgment prior to the completion of discovery, which was granted by the court.

“The Church admits that the damage to its organ resulted from defective repair and maintenance work,” District Judge Audrey D. Fleissig stated in court documents. “While the Court appreciates the significance of the Church’s loss, as a matter of law, the plain language of the insurance policy excludes that loss from the scope of coverage. Simply put, GuideOne did not undertake to guarantee the work of third-party contractors.”

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