Lyon v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co.

Decision Date11 August 1953
Citation99 A.2d 141,140 Conn. 304
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesLYON v. AETNA CASUALTY & SURETY CO. Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut

David R. Lessler, Bridgeport, for appellant (plaintiff).

Henry J. Lyons, Bridgeport, for appellee (defendant).


CORNELL, Associate Justice.

This is an action for a declaratory judgment determining whether the defendant insurer is liable under a policy of liability insurance for any sums, up to the amount of the policy, that the plaintiff may become obligated to pay as a result of damage to automobiles caused by a fire in his garage. The automobiles had been brought there by various individuals to be repaired. The policy excluded liability for damage to property 'in charge of' the insured. The court rendered judgment in favor of the defendant and the plaintiff has appealed. The single question presented is whether, at the time of their damage by fire, the automobiles were 'in charge of' the plaintiff within the meaning of this exclusionary provision.

The finding is attacked in a number of particulars, but no corrections material to the question to be determined can be made. It discloses the following undisputed facts: The plaintiff conducted an automobile body and fender repair business in a building which he owned in Bridgeport. At the time of the fire, January 28, 1948, there were in this building ten or eleven cars which had been left by their respective owners to be repaired. The cars had been brought to a yard adjacent to the garage where they were taken from their owners and were driven into the garage by the plaintiff or his employees. The repairs were to be done in such manner and at such times as the plaintiff saw fit. The keys were left in the ignition locks, and the plaintiff or his employees could move them about in the garage. It was the practice, when repairs had been completed, to take the cars out of the garage and park them in the yard or on the street. If there was reason to take the cars to other garages, the plaintiff or his employees did so, driving them back and forth on the public highways, and, if they had reason to test the cars on the highways, they would do so. The plaintiff had a key to the garage and locked it at night and over week ends. None of the car owners had keys to the garage. When the cars were damaged in the fire, they had been there for a week or ten days.

On the date of the fire the plaintiff was covered by a garage liability insurance policy issued to him, 'd/b/a Lyon Body Service,' by the defendant insurer. Coverage A was bodily injury liability. Coverage B was property damage liability, under which the insurer agreed to pay all sums which the insured should become obligated to pay because of injury to property caused by accident and arising out of the operations of the insured. These operations were defined as the ownership or use of the premises designated, including the public ways adjoining, for the purpose of an automobile dealer or repair shop, and the ownership or use of any automobile in connection with these operations or for pleasure. Under the heading 'Exclusions,' there was this clause: 'This policy does not apply * * * (i) under coverage B, to property owned by, rented to, in charge of or transported by the Insured.' The trial court concluded on the facts that there was no liability under the policy.

An insurance policy is to be interpreted by the same general rules as any other written contract and enforced in accord with the real intent of the parties as so determined. Miller Bros. Construction Co. v. Maryland Casualty Co., 113 Conn. 504, 513, 155 A. 709. The language must be given its ordinary meaning unless a technical or special meaning is clearly intended; Trumbull Electric Mfg. Co. v. John Cooke Co., 130 Conn. 12, 16, 31 A.2d 393; and where the terms of a policy are clear their meaning is not to be forced. Komroff v. Maryland Casualty Co., 105 Conn. 402, 406, 135 A. 388, 54 A.L.R. 463, In common parlance, a garage repairman to whom an automobile is entrusted for purposes of repair would unhesitatingly be said to be 'in charge of' it. Guidici v. Pacific Automobile Ins. Co., 79 Cal.App.2d 128, 131, 179 P.2d 337. Under the noun 'charge' in Webster's New International Dictionary (2d Ed.), the phrase 'in charge' is defined as follows: 'Having the charge or care of something, esp. temporarily; as, the officer or minister in charge.' Among the synonyms of the word charge are 'custody,' 'keeping' and 'management.'

The plaintiff claims that the failure of the insurer to use the words 'custody' or 'possession' in the exclusionary clause evinces an intent not to include the present situation in it. As appears from the above definition, the term 'custody' is synonymous with 'in charge of,' and it is hard to imagine a situation where one in charge of an object and having the custody of it would not also be in possession. As stated by the trial court, the relationship established by the facts was a bailment. Malone v. Santora, 135 Conn. 286, 290, 64 A.2d 51; Russell's Express, Inc., v. Bray's Garage, Inc., 94 Conn. 520, 525, 109 A. 722. The plaintiff had the possession and custody of the cars. They were in his charge within the meaning of the exclusion.

Identical language in liability policies in other jurisdictions has been construed in the same manner upon similar facts. In State Automobile Mutual Ins. Co. v. Connable-Joest, Inc., 174 Tenn. 377, 125 S.W.2d 490, a customer's automobile fell off a grease rack in the insured's garage. Under a public garage liability policy exempting the insurer from liability for damage to property 'owned, rented, leased, in charge of, or transported by the assured', the insurer was found not liable, the court holding (174 Tenn. at page 382, 125 S.W.2d at page 492) that the automobile was 'in charge of' the insured at the time of the casualty. 'The intent of the parties * * * was to exclude the insurance company from liability for claims for damage to property under the control and management of the insured, whether by virtue of ownership, lease, rental, or...

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35 cases
  • Griffith v. Security Ins. Co. of Hartford
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    ...their natural and ordinary meaning. LaBonte v. Federal Mutual Ins. Co., 159 Conn. 252, 256, 168 A.2d 663; Lyon v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 140 Conn. 304, 99 A.2d 141.' DeRubbo v. Aetna Ins. Co., 161 Conn. 388, 392, 288 A.2d 430, 433. 'A court will not torture words to import ambiguity w......
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