Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Interpretation of insurance policies (contract construction) (Tex. 2015)

An insurance policy is a contract, generally governed by the same rules of construction as all other contracts. Gilbert Tex. Constr., L.P. v. Underwriters at Lloyd’s London, 327 S.W.3d 118, 126 (Tex. 2010). When construing a contract, our primary concern is to ascertain the intentions of the parties as expressed in the document. Amedisys, Inc. v. Kingwood Home Health Care, LLC, 437 S.W.3d 507, 514 (Tex. 2014). We begin our analysis with the language of the contract because it is the best representation of what the parties mutually intended. Gilbert Tex. Constr., 327 S.W.3d at 126; see also Anglo-Dutch Petroleum Int’l, Inc. v. Greenberg Peden, P.C., 352 S.W.3d 445, 451 (Tex. 2011). Unless the policy dictates otherwise, we give words and phrases their ordinary and generally accepted meaning, reading them in context and in light of the rules of grammar and common usage. See Gilbert Tex. Constr., 327 S.W.3d at 126; Forbau v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 876 S.W.2d 132, 133 (Tex. 1994). We strive to give effect to all of the words and provisions so that none is rendered meaningless. See Gilbert Tex. Constr., 327 S.W.3d at 126; Forbau, 876 S.W.2d at 133. “No one phrase, sentence, or section [of a contract] should be isolated from its setting and considered apart from the other provisions.” Forbau, 876 S.W.2d at 134 (quoting Guardian Trust Co. v. Bauereisen, 121 S.W.2d 579, 583 (Tex. 1938)).
When construing an insurance policy, we are mindful of other courts’ interpretations of policy language that is identical or very similar to the policy language at issue. Trinity Universal Ins. Co. v. Cowan, 945 S.W.2d 819, 824 (Tex. 1997). “Courts usually strive for uniformity in construing insurance provisions, especially where . . . the contract provisions at issue are identical across the jurisdictions.” Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa. v. CBI Indus., Inc., 907 S.W.2d 517, 522 (Tex. 1995); see also Zurich Am. Ins. Co. v. Nokia, Inc., 268 S.W.3d 487, 496–97 (Tex. 2008) (“We have repeatedly stressed the importance of uniformity ‘when identical insurance provisions will necessarily be interpreted in various jurisdictions.’”) (quoting Cowan, 945 S.W.2d at 824).
RSUI and Lynd offer conflicting constructions of the Scheduled Limit of Liability endorsement. If only one party’s construction is reasonable, the policy is unambiguous and we will adopt that party’s construction. See Grain Dealers Mut. Ins. Co. v. McKee, 943 S.W.2d 455, 459 (Tex. 1997). But if both constructions present reasonable interpretations of the policy’s language, we must conclude that the policy is ambiguous. See id. at 458; Balandran v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., 972 S.W.2d 738, 741 (Tex. 1998). In that event, “we must resolve the uncertainty by adopting the construction that most favors the insured,” and because we are construing a limitation on  

coverage, we must do so “even if the construction urged by the insurer appears to be more reasonable or a more accurate reflection of the parties’ intent.” Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa. v. Hudson Energy Co., 811 S.W.2d 552, 555 (Tex. 1991). “This widely followed rule is an outgrowth of the general principle that uncertain contractual language is construed against the party selecting that language,” and is “justified by the special relationship between insurers and insureds arising from the parties’ unequal bargaining power.” Balandran, 972 S.W.2d at 741 n.1 (citing STEVEN PLITT, ET AL., 2 COUCH ON INSURANCE § 22.14 (3d ed. 1997); Arnold v. Nat’l Cnty. Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 725 S.W.2d 165, 167 (Tex. 1987)).

In contract law, the terms “ambiguous” and “ambiguity” have a more specific meaning than merely denoting a lack of clarity in language. Universal C.I.T. Credit Corp. v. Daniel, 243 S.W.2d 154, 157 (Tex. 1951). “An ambiguity does not arise simply because the parties offer conflicting interpretations.” Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Schaefer, 124 S.W.3d 154, 157 (Tex. 2003). Instead, “a contract is ambiguous only when the application of pertinent rules of interpretation to the face of the instrument leaves it genuinely uncertain which one of two or more meanings is the proper meaning.” Daniel, 243 S.W.2d at 157; see Balandran, 972 S.W.2d at 741. Thus, a contract is ambiguous only if, after applying the rules of construction, it remains “subject to two or more reasonable interpretations.” Balandran, 972 S.W.2d at 741. Our task in this case is to determine whether Lynd’s construction of the RSUI policy is reasonable. If it is, we must enforce that construction, even if RSUI’s construction is also reasonable. 

SOURCE: Texas Supreme Court – No. 13-0080 - 5/8/2015  


We hold that the Scheduled Limit of Liability endorsement at issue in this case is reasonably subject to both parties’ proposed constructions and that the endorsement is therefore ambiguous. Because our rules require us to construe an insurance policy’s ambiguous coverage limitation in favor of coverage for the insured, we affirm the court of appeals’ judgment adopting Lynd’s proposed construction. 

SOURCE: RSUI Indemnity Company v The Lynd Company, No. 13-0080 (Tex. May 8, 2015)
(Opinion by Boyd)(Hecht wrote a dissenting opinion)