Morgan v. Prudential Insurance Company of America

Decision Date23 April 1975
Docket NumberNo. 942--III,942--III
Citation13 Wn.App. 323,534 P.2d 581
PartiesGerald P. MORGAN, Respondent, v. The PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, Appellant.
CourtWashington Court of Appeals

Frank Hayes Johnson and Randall L. Stamper, Spokane, for appellant.

H. W. Felsted, Pasco, for respondent.

MUNSON, Judge.

The plaintiff had the index and middle finger of each hand, as well as a significant portion of each thumb, permanently severed from each hand while operating a book-binding machine on July 12, 1968.

The defendant, Prudential Insurance Company, appeals from a judgment entitling the plaintiff, Gerald P. Morgan, to recover benefits within the terms of a life insurance policy reading in pertinent part:

If any person insured under the policy . . . sustains the loss by severance of both hands at or above the wrists . . . the Company will pay . . .

The trial court interpreted the term 'loss' as used in the policy to include the loss of 'use' or the loss of 'function' of the hand where there had been a severance of certain bones, flesh, vessels, tendons, and muscles located in the area of the wrist. We find this interpretation to be contrary to the language in the policy.

A court may not modify clear and unambiguous language in an insurance policy. Tucker v. Bankers Life & Cas. Co., 67 Wash.2d 60, 406 P.2d 628, 23 A.L.R.3d 1098 (1965). Additionally, the terms used in an insurance policy must be construed in light of the plain, ordinary and popular sense, in which such words are used. Lawrence v. Northwest Cas. Co., 50 Wash.2d 282, 311 P.2d 670 (1957). As stated in 15 G. Couch, Insurance § 53:14 (2d ed. R. Anderson 1966):

Some forms of policies expressly provide for indemnity in case of the severance, amputation, or physical separation of a member at or above a certain point, and under these provisions recovery has generally been denied where there was no severance of the injured member from the body. Thus, it has been stated that severance at or above a given joint means actual severance, and severance of a part only of that portion below such joint does not satisfy the condition.

Respondent relies upon a line of authority, which, in construing similar language to that of this policy awarded recovery to the insured for the loss of the functional use of a hand. 1 However, we choose not to follow this line of authority. Black's Law Dictionary (4th ed. 1968) citing Muse v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 193 La. 605, 192 So. 72, 125 A.L.R. 1075 (1939) defines 'sever' as:

To separate, as one from another; to cut off from something; . . . to part in any way, especially by violence, as by cutting, rending, etc., as, to sever the head from the body; . . . to disjoin; . . .

The plain and ordinary meaning of the terms of this policy requires the conclusion that an individual who has not suffered a physical detachment of the hand, as a result of a severance occurring at a point at or above the wrist, is not entitled to recover within the terms of the aforementioned policy. Pilling v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 24 Tenn.App. 639, 148 S.W.2d 41 (1940); Matthews v. Standard Life Ins. Co., 213 So.2d 128 (La.App.1968); Muse v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 193 La. 605, 192 So. 72, 125 A.L.R....

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  • Morgan v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • February 5, 1976
    ...reversing the judgment of the trial court which had allowed plaintiff to recover under the policy. Morgan v. The Prudential Insurance Co. of America, 13 Wash.App. 323, 534 P.2d 581 (1975). We reverse the Court of Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the trial While operating a bookbinding ......

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