Gomolka v. State Auto. Mut. Ins. Co., No. 81-985

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Writing for the CourtPALMER; FRANK D. CELEBREZZE; COOK, J., of the Eleventh Appellate District, sitting for WILLIAM B. BROWN; PALMER, J., of the First Appellate District, sitting for KRUPANSKY
Citation436 N.E.2d 1347,24 O.O.3d 274,70 Ohio St.2d 166
Docket NumberNo. 81-985
Decision Date16 June 1982
Parties, 24 O.O.3d 274 GOMOLKA, Exrx., Appellee, v. STATE AUTOMOBILE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant.

Page 166

70 Ohio St.2d 166
436 N.E.2d 1347, 24 O.O.3d 274
GOMOLKA, Exrx., Appellee,
v.
STATE AUTOMOBILE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant.
No. 81-985.
Supreme Court of Ohio.
June 16, 1982.
Syllabus by the Court

Where the language of an endorsement attached by the insurer to a contract of insurance may reasonably be read by a person of ordinary experience and intelligence as having extended, without additional premium charge or other act, underinsured motorist coverage to all of its policy owners having purchased uninsured motorist coverage, and where another part of such contract may similarly be read as excluding such endorsements where it is not listed among those endorsements made applicable thereto, the insurance contract is reasonably susceptible to conflicting interpretations, is therefore ambiguous, and will be construed most favorably for the insured and against the insurer.

In May of 1979, Leonard J. and Eleanor R. Gomolka renewed an automobile insurance policy issued by appellant, State Automobile Insurance Company, for the period of June 17, 1979, to December 17, 1979. The policy, No. SBP 1620529, insured the Gomolkas' three automobiles and extended, among other coverages, uninsured motorist coverage to a limit of liability of $300,000 for each accident.

On June 30, 1979, Leonard Gomolka, while operating one of his covered automobiles, was involved in a collision with an automobile operated by Duk K. Kim. Kim was insured by Buckeye Union Insurance Company under a policy with a liability limit of $100,000. Some weeks after the collision, Gomolka expired as a result of injuries received in the accident. The aggregate of damages asserted by appellee, Gomolka's surviving spouse and executrix, exceeded the

Page 167

$100,000 policy limitation of the tortfeasor's insurance. Demand was accordingly made upon appellant for coverage of the excess under an endorsement to the Gomolka policy claimed to extend its uninsured[436 N.E.2d 1348] motorist coverage to an "underinsured highway vehicle," i.e., to a vehicle with respect to which the limits of liability under its applicable insurance are less than the limits of liability under the claimant's policy. This demand was rejected by appellant, and appellee thereupon commenced a declaratory judgment action for, inter alia, a determination that the policy of insurance issued by appellant to the Gomolkas extended underinsured motorist coverage. The trial court found, however, that the policy of insurance did not provide underinsured coverage and entered judgment accordingly.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, finding from its examination of the relevant documents that an ambiguity with respect to underinsured coverage existed and, construing the policy most favorably for the insured and against the insurer, determined that underinsured coverage existed.

The cause is now before this court pursuant to the allowance of a motion to certify the record.

Mansour, Gavin, Gerlack, & Manos Co., L. P. A., Ernest P. Mansour and Jeffrey M. Embleton, Cleveland, for appellee.

Cronquist, Smith, Marshall & Kagels and Jack F. Smith, Cleveland, for appellant.

PALMER, Justice.

The sole question presented is whether the policy of insurance issued by appellant to the Gomolkas and in force at the time of the accident to Mr. Gomolka extended to them underinsured motorist coverage, in addition to a conceded uninsured motorist coverage.

Such questions of law are determined, in the first instance, by an examination of the relevant insurance documents, utilizing therein the familiar rules of construction and interpretation applicable to contracts generally. Wagner v. National Fire Ins. Co. (1973), 132 Ohio St. 405, 412, 8 N.E.2d 144. To the extent that a brief review of those rules of construction relevant to the instant question may be useful before examining the language of the policy in detail, we note, initially, that words and phrases used in an insurance policy must be given their natural and

Page 168

commonly accepted meaning, where they in fact possess such meaning, to the end that a reasonable interpretation of the insurance contract consistent with the apparent object and plain intent of the parties may be determined. Dealers Dairy Products Co. v. Royal Ins. Co. (1960), 170 Ohio St. 336, 164 N.E.2d 745, paragraph one of the syllabus. The insurer, having prepared the policy, must also be prepared to accept any reasonable interpretation, consistent with the foregoing, in favor of the insured. Home Indem. Co. v. Plymouth (1945), 146 Ohio St. 96, 101, 64 N.E.2d 248.

It is quite proper to emphasize, as appellant does, that such rules of construction and interpretation possess definite limitations. Thus, where the provisions of an insurance policy are clear and unambiguous courts may not indulge themselves in enlarging the contract by implication in order to embrace an object distinct from that contemplated by the parties, Stickel v. Excess Ins. Co. (1939), 136 Ohio St. 49, 23 N.E.2d 839, paragraph one of the syllabus, nor read into the contract a meaning not placed there by an act of the parties, Motorists Ins. Co. v. Tomanski (1970), 27 Ohio St.2d 222, 226, 271 N.E.2d 924; Olmstead v. Lumbermens Mutl. Ins. Co. (1970), 22 Ohio St.2d 212, 216, 259 N.E.2d 123, nor make a new contract for the parties where their unequivocal acts demonstrate an intention to the contrary, Jackson v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. (1973), 34 Ohio St.2d 138, 140, 296 N.E.2d 679; Fidelity & Cas. Co. v. Hartzell Bros. Co. (1924), 109 Ohio St. 566, 143 N.E. 137.

Where, however, it may reasonably be concluded that the language of a policy is ambiguous and may therefore be subject to different interpretations, a universally applied axiom of construction becomes appropriate to resolve the ambiguity. As stated in Butche v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co. (1962), 174 Ohio St. 144, 146, 187 N.E.2d 20:

" * * * (P)olicies of insurance, which are in language selected by the insurer and [436 N.E.2d 1349] which are reasonably open to different interpretations, will be construed most favorably for the insured. Home Indemnity Co. v. Village of Plymouth (1945), 146 Ohio St., 96, 64 N.E. (2d) 248." See, also, Buckeye Union Ins. Co. v. Price (1974), 39 Ohio St.2d 95, 313 N.E.2d 844; American Financial Corp. v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co. (1968), 15 Ohio St.2d 171, 173, 239 N.E.2d 33; 44 Corpus Juris Secundum 1166, Insurance, Section 297(C). See generally, 1 Couch on Insurance 2d 776, Section 15:73; 30 Ohio Jurisprudence 2d 225, Insurance, Section 215.

Page 169

Bearing these several principles of construction in mind, an examination of the relevant insurance policy reveals that it consisted of a printed, multi-page contract form entitled, Special Budget/Automobile Policy, containing general provisions relating to liability, medical expense, uninsured motorist and other coverage, protection against automobile physical damage, and various conditions and exclusions. Attached to this printed form was a one-page computer printout sheet entitled, Renewal Declarations Page-Part Two Special Budget Automobile Policy, the open boxes of which were completed with the relevant information typed in. Several printed endorsement forms and a general printed form entitled, Automobile Amendatory Endorsements, and designated as Form AU-18, completed the contract documents delivered to the Gomolkas by appellant.

The language contained in this policy relevant to the instant issue may be...

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381 practice notes
  • Stychno v. Ohio Edison Co., No. 5:90 CV 02096.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • August 3, 1992
    ...reliance had been upon a broken reed. A court cannot sustain such a contention. See, e.g., Gomolka v. State Automobile Mutual Ins. Co., 70 Ohio St.2d 166, 436 N.E.2d 1347 (1982); Taulbee v. The Travelers Cos., 42 Ohio App.3d 209, 537 N.E.2d 670 (1987), motion overruled, (1987). If, however,......
  • Northbrook Excess and Surplus Ins. Co. v. Procter & Gamble Co., Nos. 89-2506
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • February 15, 1991
    ...See, e.g., King v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 35 Ohio St.3d 208, 519 N.E.2d 1380, 1383 (Ohio 1988); Gomolka v. State Auto. Mut. Ins. Co., 70 Ohio St.2d 166, 436 N.E.2d 1347, 1352 (Ohio 1982). However, it is clear that the rule is grounded in the need to protect an insured from an insurer who has ......
  • PI&I Motor Express, Inc. v. RLI Ins. Co., CASE NO. 4:19CV1008
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • December 27, 2019
    ...is evident, i.e., if the language of the policy's provisions is clear and unambiguous . . . ."); Gomolka v. State Auto. Mut. Ins. Co., 436 N.E.2d 1347, 1351 (Ohio 1982) ("The intention of the parties must be derived instead from the instrument as a whole, and not from detached or isolated p......
  • Whitt Mach., Inc. v. Essex Ins. Co., No. 1:08-CV-00439.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • April 14, 2009
    ...Ohio law the Endorsement is controlling in the event of conflict with the Policy (Id. citing Gomolka v. State Auto. Mut. Ins. Co., 70 Ohio St.2d 166, 172, 436 N.E.2d 1347 (Ohio 1982); Workman v. Republic Mut. Ins. Co., 144 Ohio St. 37, 46, 56 N.E.2d 190, 194 (Ohio 1944); Progressive Max Ins......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
381 cases
  • Stychno v. Ohio Edison Co., No. 5:90 CV 02096.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • August 3, 1992
    ...reliance had been upon a broken reed. A court cannot sustain such a contention. See, e.g., Gomolka v. State Automobile Mutual Ins. Co., 70 Ohio St.2d 166, 436 N.E.2d 1347 (1982); Taulbee v. The Travelers Cos., 42 Ohio App.3d 209, 537 N.E.2d 670 (1987), motion overruled, (1987). If, however,......
  • Northbrook Excess and Surplus Ins. Co. v. Procter & Gamble Co., Nos. 89-2506
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • February 15, 1991
    ...See, e.g., King v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 35 Ohio St.3d 208, 519 N.E.2d 1380, 1383 (Ohio 1988); Gomolka v. State Auto. Mut. Ins. Co., 70 Ohio St.2d 166, 436 N.E.2d 1347, 1352 (Ohio 1982). However, it is clear that the rule is grounded in the need to protect an insured from an insurer who has ......
  • PI&I Motor Express, Inc. v. RLI Ins. Co., CASE NO. 4:19CV1008
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • December 27, 2019
    ...is evident, i.e., if the language of the policy's provisions is clear and unambiguous . . . ."); Gomolka v. State Auto. Mut. Ins. Co., 436 N.E.2d 1347, 1351 (Ohio 1982) ("The intention of the parties must be derived instead from the instrument as a whole, and not from detached or isolated p......
  • Whitt Mach., Inc. v. Essex Ins. Co., No. 1:08-CV-00439.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • April 14, 2009
    ...Ohio law the Endorsement is controlling in the event of conflict with the Policy (Id. citing Gomolka v. State Auto. Mut. Ins. Co., 70 Ohio St.2d 166, 172, 436 N.E.2d 1347 (Ohio 1982); Workman v. Republic Mut. Ins. Co., 144 Ohio St. 37, 46, 56 N.E.2d 190, 194 (Ohio 1944); Progressive Max Ins......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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