National Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa. v. Hudson Energy Co., Inc., No. C-9419

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtGONZALEZ; Concurring opinion by HECHT, J., joined by PHILLIPS; HECHT; PHILLIPS
Citation811 S.W.2d 552
PartiesNATIONAL UNION FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY OF PITTSBURGH, PA., Petitioner, v. HUDSON ENERGY COMPANY, INC., Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. C-9419
Decision Date19 June 1991

Page 552

811 S.W.2d 552
NATIONAL UNION FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY OF PITTSBURGH, PA., Petitioner,
v.
HUDSON ENERGY COMPANY, INC., Respondent.
No. C-9419.
Supreme Court of Texas.
June 19, 1991.

Page 553

Charles H. Smith, John W. Moore, Dallas, for petitioner.

Jack N. Price, Austin, Lynn Patton, Longview, for respondent.

OPINION

GONZALEZ, Justice.

This case involves the interpretation of an insurance policy on an aircraft. Adam Hudson, a student pilot, and Rodney Bishop, his instructor, took an instruction flight on a plane that was insured by National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The plane flipped over when it landed and was damaged. Hudson Energy Company, Inc., the owner of the plane, filed suit against its insurer, National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A jury found that National Union had improperly denied coverage and awarded Hudson Energy actual damages, exemplary damages, and attorney's fees. The court of appeals struck the award of exemplary damages and otherwise affirmed the judgment of the trial court. 780 S.W.2d 417. We affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

On May 23, 1980, Hudson, president of Hudson Energy Company, Inc., purchased a Cessna P-210 aircraft from Johnny Walker, owner of Eastex Aviation. The plane was a single engine model equipped with dual controls. At the time of purchase, Hudson sought Walker's help in obtaining insurance. Walker contacted James Ragsdale, an employee of Cooper Aviation Insurance. According to Hudson, Walker was the only one to have direct contact with Ragsdale. Hudson submitted an application for insurance showing he was a student pilot. In a letter to Hudson dated June 10, 1980, Ragsdale explained that the quoted insurance premium was based on an understanding that Hudson was a private pilot and that such information was necessary before a policy could be issued. Hudson then completed a new application indicating he was a private pilot. 1 An insurance binder was issued on May 30, 1980, and the policy was effective for one year beginning on May 23, 1980.

On July 13, 1980, Hudson, his flight instructor (Rodney Bishop), and a passenger flew VFR (visual flight rules) from Longview, Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana. Hudson was at the left hand controls and Bishop was at the right hand controls. Hudson flew the plane throughout the flight, which was uneventful until the plane began its final approach. The control tower granted permission to land but Bishop took control when he noticed an approaching helicopter. After they gained altitude to ensure a safe distance, the controller instructed the plane to land on a different runway. This change resulted in a steeper descent to the runway. Bishop complied with the instruction and established a proper flight path. Bishop then returned control of the plane to Hudson.

Upon landing the plane began to bounce. Bishop grabbed his set of controls and,

Page 554

along with Hudson, 2 attempted to regain control of the plane. The pilots regained control but as it continued down the runway, for an unexplained reason, it began to veer off the paved runway and ride along the grassy edge. As it continued down this path, the front nose gear sank in soft sod causing the nose gear to sheer off and the plane to flip over.

Hudson Energy filed a claim under the insurance policy to recover for damage to the plane. National Union denied coverage on the basis that Hudson was not qualified as a private pilot and the policy did not cover simultaneous control of the plane by two pilots. Hudson Energy filed suit alleging that National Union was improperly applying the policy exclusions and had breached the duty of good faith and fair dealing. After a jury trial, the trial court rendered judgment on the verdict for Hudson Energy and awarded $114,440 as actual damages, $75,000 in exemplary damages for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, and $40,000 in attorney's fees. The court of appeals affirmed the award of actual damages and attorney's fees but deleted the award of exemplary damages, finding as a matter of law, that National Union had not acted in bad faith when it denied the claim. 780 S.W.2d 427.

The policy contained the following provisions:

EXCLUSIONS

This policy does not apply:

* * * * * *

2. To any insured while the aircraft is in flight

a. if piloted by other than the pilot or pilots designated in the declarations;

DECLARATIONS

* * * * * *

ITEM 5. When in flight the aircraft will be piloted only by:

As endorsed

ENDORSEMENT NO. 1

IT IS AGREED THAT Item 5 of the Declarations--When in flight the aircraft will be piloted only by--is completed to read as follows:

Adam R. Hudson provided he is a private pilot properly certified by the FAA having a minimum of 213 logged flying hours, and receives 15 hours of dual instruction from a properly certified flight instructor prior to solo; or

Any private or commercial pilot with an instrument rating properly certified by the FAA having a minimum of 750 logged flying hours, 150 of which are in retractable gear aircraft, including 15 hours in the make and model aircraft.

(Emphasis added). Neither party pled that the insurance policy was ambiguous.

On appeal to this court, National Union asserts that, as a matter of law, it is entitled to judgment because the terms of the policy prohibit simultaneous piloting by a qualified pilot and an unqualified pilot. National Union asserts that the cause of the crash occurred while Hudson was in control of the plane while Hudson maintains that the cause of the crash occurred while both he and his instructor were at the controls. National Union argues that under either scenario the policy does not cover the risk of piloting by an unqualified pilot and the jury found that Hudson was not qualified. 3 Thus, the sole issue before

Page 555

this court is whether under this policy the accident was a covered risk.

Generally, a contract of insurance is subject to the same rules of construction as other contracts. Barnett v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 723 S.W.2d 663, 665 (Tex.1987). If the written instrument is worded so that it can be given only one reasonable construction, it will be enforced as written. Puckett v. U.S. Fire Ins. Co., 678 S.W.2d 936, 938 (Tex.1984). However, if a contract of insurance is susceptible of more than one reasonable interpretation, we must resolve the uncertainty by adopting the construction that most favors the insured. Barnett, 723 S.W.2d at 667; Ramsay v. Maryland Am. Gen. Ins. Co., 533 S.W.2d 344, 349 (Tex.1976);...

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332 practice notes
  • Universe Life Ins. Co. v. Giles, No. 94-0992
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • July 9, 1997
    ...866 S.W.2d 597 (Tex.1993); National Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Hudson Energy Co., 780 S.W.2d 417, 426-427 (Tex.App.--Texarkana 1989), aff'd, 811 S.W.2d 552 (Tex.1991). Only one court applying the Polasek standard has upheld a Page 76 finding of bad faith. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Garza, 906 S.W......
  • Transportation Ins. Co. v. Moriel, No. D-1507
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 8, 1994
    ...373, 376-77 (Tex.1994); National Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Hudson Energy Co., 780 S.W.2d 417, 426 (Tex.App.--Texarkana 1989), aff'd, Page 18 811 S.W.2d 552 (Tex.1991). 8 Nor is bad faith established if the evidence shows the insurer was merely incorrect about the factual basis for its denial o......
  • Bradley v. Phillips Chemical Co., Civil Action No. H-05-3912.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • March 22, 2007
    ...any provision expressly excluding chemical workers from the Policy's broad coverage.33 Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Hudson Energy Co., 811 S.W.2d 552, 555 (Tex.1991) ("In particular, exceptions or limitations on liability are strictly construed against the insurer and in favor of the insure......
  • National American Ins. Co. v. Breaux, No. CIV.A. 1:03CV1378.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • January 6, 2005
    ...at 701; Constitution State Ins. Co. v. Iso-Tex Inc., 61 F.3d 405, 407 (5th Cir.1995); National Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Hudson Energy Co., 811 S.W.2d 552, 555 (Tex.1991). The determination of whether an insurance policy is ambiguous is a question of law for the court to decide. See Canutillo ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
337 cases
  • Universe Life Ins. Co. v. Giles, No. 94-0992
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • July 9, 1997
    ...866 S.W.2d 597 (Tex.1993); National Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Hudson Energy Co., 780 S.W.2d 417, 426-427 (Tex.App.--Texarkana 1989), aff'd, 811 S.W.2d 552 (Tex.1991). Only one court applying the Polasek standard has upheld a Page 76 finding of bad faith. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Garza, 906 S.W......
  • Transportation Ins. Co. v. Moriel, No. D-1507
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 8, 1994
    ...373, 376-77 (Tex.1994); National Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Hudson Energy Co., 780 S.W.2d 417, 426 (Tex.App.--Texarkana 1989), aff'd, Page 18 811 S.W.2d 552 (Tex.1991). 8 Nor is bad faith established if the evidence shows the insurer was merely incorrect about the factual basis for its denial o......
  • Bradley v. Phillips Chemical Co., Civil Action No. H-05-3912.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • March 22, 2007
    ...any provision expressly excluding chemical workers from the Policy's broad coverage.33 Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Hudson Energy Co., 811 S.W.2d 552, 555 (Tex.1991) ("In particular, exceptions or limitations on liability are strictly construed against the insurer and in favor of the insure......
  • National American Ins. Co. v. Breaux, No. CIV.A. 1:03CV1378.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • January 6, 2005
    ...at 701; Constitution State Ins. Co. v. Iso-Tex Inc., 61 F.3d 405, 407 (5th Cir.1995); National Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Hudson Energy Co., 811 S.W.2d 552, 555 (Tex.1991). The determination of whether an insurance policy is ambiguous is a question of law for the court to decide. See Canutillo ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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