May an Insurer Depreciate the Cost of Labor in Determining the Actual Cash Value of a Covered Loss?

Recently, the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska certified this question to the Nebraska Supreme Court: “May an insurer, in determining the ‘actual cash value’ of a covered loss, depreciate the cost of labor when the terms ‘actual cash value’ and ‘depreciation’ are not defined in the policy and the policy does not explicitly state that labor costs will be depreciated?”. Today, the Nebraska Supreme Court found in the affirmative. 

Henn v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co. involves a current dispute over the interpretation of a homeowners’ insurance policy. At the crux of the dispute was whether labor costs can be depreciated in determining the actual cash value (replacement cost minus depreciation) of a covered damage under the policy. In its analysis, the Nebraska Supreme Court noted that Nebraska law has always generally allowed for depreciation in defining “actual cash value”. Despite the plaintiff’s argument that depreciating labor is illogical because labor does not depreciate, the court noted that such an argument is in contravention of the court’s prior reasoning that actual cash value must not equal the amount required to complete the repairs. Actual cash value is meant only to start repairs. 

The court also stated that Nebraska courts may still consider material and labor when determining actual cash value. This approach ensures that the insured does “not pay for a hybrid policy of actual cash value for roofing materials and replacement costs for labor” as the property is comprised of both materials and labor. Therefore, an insurer may depreciate labor in determining the actual cash value of a covered loss when not stated otherwise in the policy.