Vanguard Ins. Co. v. Stewart

Decision Date08 November 1979
Docket NumberNo. 17461,17461
Citation593 S.W.2d 736
PartiesVANGUARD INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant, v. Harvey A. STEWART et al., Appellees. (1st Dist.)
CourtTexas Court of Appeals

Fulbright & Jaworski, John Eddie Williams, Jr., Houston, for appellant.

Helm, Pletcher, Hogan & Burrow, Michael Y. Saunders, Houston, for appellees.

Before COLEMAN, C. J., and DOYLE and WALLACE, JJ.

COLEMAN, Chief Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment for the insureds, Harvey A. Stewart and his wife Dorothy Stewart (Stewart), and against the insurer, Vanguard Insurance Company (Vanguard), for property damage and medical payments provided in a policy of insurance covering an airplane. Vanguard appeals, asserting that there is no evidence, or insufficient evidence, to support the jury's answer to certain issues and that the trial court erred in including in its charge to the jury instructions setting out the rules of law relating to the construction of insurance contracts. The judgment will be reversed.

This controversy arose out of the February 8, 1975 crash of a Cessna 180 owned by Harvey Stewart at or near the Ruidoso, New Mexico airport. Stewart was listed as the insured on an insurance policy covering the aircraft issued by Vanguard. The policy provided coverage for medical expenses of the airplane occupants, and for any physical damage to the Cessna aircraft.

At the time of the accident Harvey Stewart occupied the left front seat and Gerald T. Greak occupied the right front seat. Dorothy Stewart and Elizabeth Greak were passengers. There is evidence that both Stewart and Greak piloted the plane at various times during this trip, and that at the time of the crash Greak was the pilot in command and actively operating the controls of the airplane.

Vanguard denied that the airplane was covered by the provisions of the policy at the time of this accident by reason of the following policy provision:

"When the aircraft is operated while in motion, insurance will be effective only when said operation is by a pilot designated below who is possessed of a current and valid pilot certificate of the kind specified with appropriate ratings and a current medical certificate, . . .

"A pilot approved by the Named Insured provided he possesses a private or commercial pilot certificate and has logged at least 750 flying hours as a pilot in command which includes at least 50 hours in a single engine aircraft equipped with a conventional landing gear and 10 hours in Cessna 180 aircraft."

The evidence established that Stewart lacked a current medical certificate. In response to special issues the jury found (1) that Greak was operating the plane at the time of the crash, (2) that Greak had logged at least 10 hours in a Cessna 180 aircraft as pilot in command, (3) and that at the time of the crash Greak had logged as pilot in command at least 50 hours in single engine aircraft equipped with conventional landing gear.

The policy contains no definition of the terms "logged", "pilot in command", and "conventional landing gear".

The evidence was clearly sufficient to support the finding of the jury that Greak was operating the plane at the time of the crash. Evidence was also sufficient to support a finding that at the time of the crash Greak had logged as pilot in command at least 50 hours in single engine aircraft equipped with a tricycle landing gear. There was evidence that at the time of the crash the tricycle landing gear was considered a conventional landing gear. The vital issue in the case is the meaning of the term "logged" as used in the policy of insurance.

There is testimony that all pilots maintain a log book. The Federal Aviation Administration requires signed entries in a log book as evidence to support an application for renewal of licenses or for advanced licenses. There is no requirement that all flights be logged on the pilot's log book, but an examiner for aviation licenses will not recognize experience gained by flying unless the flight is noted in the pilot's log book. There is testimony that an instructor's flight time is noted in a student's log book signed by the instructor, but it appears that this procedure is for the benefit of the student when he seeks to show his qualifications for a pilot's license. There is no specific testimony that Mr. Greak logged any time as a flight instructor for Mr....

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