Iowa Court Case Debates Definition of Corn Stover Versus Corn Stubble?

August 10, 2007

When is cornfield residue stover and when is it stubble? That’s the question the Iowa Court of Appeals decided in ruling in favor of a farmer who sued his insurance company after it failed to cover fire damage to a field.

The case, which originated in Pottawattamie County District Court in Council Bluffs, involved Kurt Stamp and Caroline Stamp and Western Iowa Mutual Insurance Co.

The Stamps had a farm insurance policy in effect when a fire that started on a neighboring property spread onto their farm field on March 6, 2005.

The Stamps had harvested their crop the previous fall, but stalks, cobs and leaves remaining in the field were damaged.

They asked for damages for the crop residue, which they said had market value as livestock feed. A specific amount was not specified in appeals court documents.

The insurance company said the stalks, cobs and leaves in the field were stubble, which were not covered under the policy.

District Court Judge James M. Richardson concluded that stover and stubble were the same thing and the insurance policy excluded them.

The Stamps appealed.

The appeals court said an insurance company has a duty to define policy exclusions in clear and explicit terms. The court said in cases of dispute, it routinely uses a dictionary to determine ordinary meanings.

The dictionary defines stover as refuse of a field crop such as stalks and leaves of corn after the ears are harvested, while stubble is defined as a stump of a cultivated plant left in the ground after a cutting or harvest.

The insurance policy exclusion for standing seed or forage crops, straw or stubble does not specifically include stover, the court said.

“The exclusion relied on by the defendant is not clear and explicit and we conclude the exclusion is ambiguous as to whether it covers stover,” the court said. “We do not agree with the district court that stubble and stover mean the same thing.”

The court sent the case back to district court.

Telephone calls placed earlier this week to the Stamps’ attorney and the attorney for the insurance company were not immediately returned.

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