Six Bits or Bust: Insurance Litigation over the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

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Reproduced by permission from Western Legal History, volume 24, number 2 (2011). Copyright © 2011 Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society.

This article describes and analyzes the policyholder coverage court decisions and opinions arising from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, starting with a summary of the factual background and concluding with comments about their historic significance. By showing that policyholders could recover even under strict policy language, these cases helped to spur settlements by reluctant insurers and determined the pace at which the city’s rebirth was completed in the years immediately following the disaster.

But these century-old cases are also important today. They are still relevant to the issue of “ensuing loss”–whether fires or other covered perils, stemming from earthquakes or other excluded perils, are nonetheless insured. This broader question is as current as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and as imminent as the next calamity.

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