Ruling in South Dakota 2013 Storm-Related Case Prompts Policy Reviews

September 14, 2016

Some ranchers are revisiting their insurance policies following a South Dakota Supreme Court ruling that allows a family in Quinn to collect insurance for cattle that drowned during a blizzard in 2013.

The unanimous ruling issued in July has prompted scrutiny from ranchers in western South Dakota whose claims stemming from the storm were initially denied, the Rapid City Journal reported. The Atlas storm, comprising heavy rain followed by snow, killed at least 43,000 cattle.

“I have been getting a disturbing number of calls from ranchers who had De Smet Insurance during the Atlas blizzard,” Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, said referring to De Smet Farm Mutual Insurance Company of South Dakota, the insurer that covered the Quinn family during the blizzard.

The high court ruled that Richard and Lorayna Papousek’s insurance covers 93 yearling heifers that died in the October 2013 storm under a drowning provision. A lower court had sided with their insurance company, which argued that none of the cattle were discovered submerged in water. A veterinarian for the family said the cattle inhaled rain and snow, which led to their deaths.

Christen said adjusters with the insurance company have been calling ranchers, offering to revisit previously declined cases. Christen said the insurer wants to reduce possible damages, even in instances when the policies have the same language as the policy of the family in Quinn.

“It seems since the Supreme Court case, the company recognizes that its definition of drowning won’t hold up in court,” she said. “That would seem to be good news. But the company seems to not want to pay the full claim, or pay at the rate that was decided in the Supreme Court case.”

The insurer did not respond to the newspaper’s requests for comment.

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