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Who's first? Disturbing ambiguity in the language of insurance Legal insurance blog about property insurance



Abbott and Costello's appearance of the now classic "Who & # 39; s on first?" baseball sketch remains comedy gold. 1 In addition to being outrageously funny, this comedy sketch highlights the importance of language and how specific words can be misunderstood. The ambiguity of the place becomes more significant than baseball positions when the legal effect of those words is applied, especially when applied to a property insurance policy, which can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions.

Property insurance, but not intentional. so, are ambiguous written with involved provisions in a mess of different forms describing specific coverage, exceptions and a number of restrictions. In his book, When Words Collide Bill Wilson states:

It would be ridiculous for us to say that [any] politics is not ambiguous. 2

The Supreme Court of Tennessee has long instructed courts to interpret insurance using the same principles that govern the construction of other agreements. 3 Traditionally, this means that the provisions have their simple and ordinary meaning within the framework of the entire agreement. Tennessee courts, like most other courts, go one step further in favor of the insured:

[C] insurance contracts are interpreted strictly in favor of the insured, and if the disputed provision is susceptible to more than one credible meaning, the meaning is favorable for the insured controls. 4

One of these traditional principles for the interpretation of an agreement or an insurance policy "is to establish and implement the intent of the parties." 5 The intention is first sought with the policy itself, but ambiguity exists where the parties' intention is unclear. Fortunately, Tennessee courts have argued that passwords can be used to define non-obvious terms in a contract. 6 Passwords are evidence that seeks to amend, explain or supplement the current agreement by using previous or simultaneous explanations. This evidence is usually prevented from being used in the absence of specific circumstances, of which ambiguity is such a circumstance. In Jones v. Brooks the Tennessee Supreme Court found that parole evidence could be considered if a contractual provision were the subject of two reasonable interpretations, and the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Coble Systems, Inc. v. Gifford Company noted that passwords can be used to clarify latent ambiguities in written agreements. 7

But whether an ambiguity even exists must first be determined. In Southern Trust Insurance Company v. Phillips the issue of arson was covered by the "fire" provision or excluded under "vandalism and adverse accident". 8 The trial court reasoned that because the two dangers were undefined, an ambiguity exists; therefore, the importance that is favorable to the insured controls and arson under the "fire" provision is covered. Although the Court found ambiguity in these provisions, the Board of Appeal did not. The Court of Appeal considered that the issued policy "unequivocally provides cover for fire and / or arson but does not cover vandalism or a harmful accident."

While Abbot and Costello figure out who is first and that mr. What is on the second base, insured should know the terms of their insurance, especially who to contact and what is covered so they can slip into the home.
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1

Who's first? YouTube (February 16, 2017, last visited November 30, 2020), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sShMA85pv8M [19659009] 2 Bill Wilson. When words collide: resolves insurance coverage and claims disputes . 10 (2018).
3 Am. Justice Ins. Reciprocal v. Hutchinson 15 S.W.3d 811, 814 (Tenn. 2000).
4 Southern Trust Ins. Co. v. Phillips 474 SW3d 660, 664-65 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015), cites Garrison v. Bickford 377 SW3d 659, 663-64 (Tenn. 2012) ( internal citations omitted).
5 Id.
6 Williams v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. 2020 WL 6821700 at * 4 (Tenn. Ct. App., November 20, 2020).
7 Jones v Brooks 696 SW2d 885, 886 (Tenn 1985); Coble Systems, Inc. v. Gifford Co. 627 S.W.2d 359, 362 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1981).
8 Southern Trust Ins. Co. 474 S.W.3d at 660.
9 Id. at 671.


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