Another Court’s Approach To ‘Ambiguity’ In Policy

Yesterday I posted about an appellate case in Florida, Discover Property & Casualty v. Beach Cars, that contained an analysis of policy ambiguity that not every court would agree with.  A case from Georgia shows yet another approach to ambiguity — defining a term in a way that is contrary to the interpretation of the insurer and actually denies the existence of an ambiguity at all.

In Empire Fire & Marine Insurance Co. v. Daniels, 2006 WL 1479508 (Ga.App. May 31, 2006), Shana Carner drove a rental car belonging to her husband’s business, Carver Services, Inc.  Tragically, she was involved in a single-car accident and killed, along with an adult passenger, Joey Allen Daniels.  Carver’s daughter, Haley Mosley, and Joseph Patrick Daniels, both minors, were injured in the crash.  In the resulting lawsuit by the Daniels family, the issue was whether Shana Carver was an insured under the policy or a rentee that was uncovered.  As it turned out, she apparently intended to rent the car, but never paid a rental fee.  The trial court found that both the company’s primary and excess policies covered Ms. Carver as an insured.  The issue on appeal was the excess policy only. 

The appeals court found the excess policy also provided coverage because it failed to define the word "rent," and the common dictionary definition of rent is that evidence of payment must exist.  That is an unusual methodology — most courts follow a framework that can result in undefined words being labeled as ambiguous, and if two reasonable interpretations are offered, the insurer loses.  This court skipped a couple steps, but its result is one that many, but not all courts, would have arrived at anyway.  It will be interesting to see if the case is appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

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