Wright v. American States Ins. Co., 45A03-0103-CV-85.

Citation765 N.E.2d 690
Case DateApril 02, 2002
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

765 N.E.2d 690

Reginald WRIGHT, Sr., and Teresa Jones, as parents of Reginald Wright, Jr., and Joseph Wright, Deceased, et al., Appellant-Defendant,

No. 45A03-0103-CV-85.

Court of Appeals of Indiana.

April 2, 2002.

765 N.E.2d 691
William K. McVisk, Johnson & Bell, Ltd., Chicago, IL, Attorney for Appellant

Kenneth J. Allen, Kenneth J. Allen & Associates, P.C., Valparaiso, IN, Attorney for Appellee.


RATLIFF, Senior Judge.


Appellants-Defendants Reginald Wright, Sr. and Teresa Jones (collectively "Parents") appeal from the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of Appellee Plaintiff American States Insurance Co. ("ASI").

We affirm.

765 N.E.2d 692

The following restated issue is presented in this appeal: whether the trial court properly held that the exclusion for claims resulting from vehicular accidents contained in ASI's policy with its insured, Nurseryland Foundation, Inc. ("Nurseryland"), removed any duty to defend or indemnify Nurseryland for liability alleged by Parents against Nurseryland.


On June 25, 1998, a van owned by Nurseryland, and operated by Nurseryland employee, Sherwood C. Harris ("Harris"), was involved in a collision. The Parents' two children, Reginald Wright, Jr. ("Reggie") and Joseph Wright ("Jo Jo"), were occupants of the van at the time of the collision. Reggie was injured in the accident, and Jo Jo died as a result of his injuries. The Parents sued Nurseryland and Harris, among others, alleging a breach on Nurseryland's part of its duty to the Parents, Reggie and Jo Jo, and detailing their allegations of negligence on Nurseryland and Harris' part.

Nurseryland had purchased a commercial general liability insurance policy from ASI. On March 24, 1999, ASI initiated the instant declaratory judgment action asking the trial court to determine whether ASI had a duty to indemnify or defend Nurseryland in the action brought by the Parents.1 On December 23, 1999, ASI filed its motion for summary judgment. The Parents filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on January 24, 2000. On September 29, 2000, the trial court granted ASI's motion and denied the Parents' motion. On October 30, 2000, the Parents filed a Motion to Correct Error. On November 30, 2000, the trial court denied the Parents' motion. This appeal ensued.



Upon review of an order entering summary judgment, this court applies the same standard as the trial court. Burkett v. American Family Ins. Group, 737 N.E.2d 447, 451 (Ind.Ct.App.2000). Summary judgment is appropriate where the evidentiary matter designated to the trial court shows both that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 451-52. We will affirm on appeal a trial court's order granting summary judgment if it is sustainable under any theory or basis found in the evidentiary matter designated to the trial court. Id. at 452. Additionally, when material facts are not in dispute, our review is limited to the determination of whether the trial court correctly applied the law to the undisputed facts.

When the material facts are undisputed with regard to a motion for summary judgment and the question presented is a pure question of law, we review the matter de novo. Id. Accordingly, because the interpretation of a contract is a matter of law, cases involving the interpretation of insurance contracts are particularly appropriate for summary judgment. Id.

Moreover, provisions of insurance contracts are subject to the same rules of construction as other contracts. Id. We interpret an insurance policy with the goal of ascertaining and enforcing the parties' intent as revealed by the insurance contract. Id. In accomplishing that goal we must construe the insurance policy as a

765 N.E.2d 693
whole, rather than considering individual words, phrases, or paragraphs. Id. If the contract language is clear and unambiguous, it should be given its plain and ordinary meaning. Id.

Additionally, we must accept an interpretation of the contract language that harmonizes the provision rather than one which supports a conflicting version of the provisions. Id. Policy terms are interpreted from the perspective of an ordinary policyholder of average intelligence. Id. If reasonably intelligent persons honestly may differ as to the meaning of the policy language, the policy is ambiguous. Id. However, an ambiguity does not exist merely because the parties proffer differing interpretations of the policy language. Id.

In her order granting ASI's motion for summary judgment and denying the Parents' cross-motion for summary judgment, the trial judge construed the insurance policy at issue from a neutral stance. (Appellant's App. at 307-08). The Parents argue that the trial court erred and should have construed the policy from a stance favoring coverage. ASI contends that the trial court used the correct standard.

We previously have held that the rule requiring a court to construe a policy in favor of coverage applied only in disputes between the insurer and the insured. See id. at 453. The factor distinguishing cases in which courts apply a neutral stance from cases in which courts construe the policy language strictly against the insurer appears to be that the party that was seeking to benefit from a particular interpretation of the insurance contract was not a party to the contract. Id.

This matter clearly involves a dispute between an insurer and the Parents, who were not party to the insurance contract. Therefore, the trial court was correct in choosing to interpret the policy language from a neutral stance.


At issue in the present case is the language contained in the policy Nurseryland purchased from ASI. Those provisions read as follows:

1. Insuring Agreement
a. We will pay those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of "bodily injury" or "property damage" to which this insurance applies. We will have the right and duty to defend the insured against any "suit" seeking those damages. However, we will have no duty to defend the insured against any suit seeking damages for "bodily injury" or "property damage" to which this insurance does not apply ...
* * *
b. This insurance applies to "bodily injury" and "property damage" only if:
(1) The "bodily injury" or "property damage" is caused by an "occurrence" that takes place in the "coverage territory"; and
(2) The "bodily injury" or "property damage" occurs during the policy period.
c. Damages because of "bodily injury" include damages claimed by any person or organization for care, loss of services or death resulting at any time from the "bodily injury".
2. Exclusions
This insurance does not apply to:
765 N.E.2d 694
* * *
g. Aircraft, Auto, or Watercraft
"Bodily injury" or "property damage" arising out of the ownership, maintenance, use or entrustment to others of any aircraft, "auto" or watercraft owned or operated by or rented or loaned to any insured. Use includes operation and "loading or unloading".
* * *

(Appellant's App. 250-52).

* * *
4. "Coverage territory" means:
a. The United States of America (including its territories and possessions), Puerto Rico and Canada;
* * *
12. "Occurrence" means an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions.

(Appellant's App. 260-262).

In New Hampshire Insurance Company v. Jefferson Insurance Company of New York, 213 A.D.2d 325, 327, 624 N.Y.S.2d 392 (N.Y.App.Div.1995), the supreme court of New York found that an exclusion...

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