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Ossipee Marine, Inc. v. Marine MGA, Inc.

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

January 22, 2008

Ossipee Marine, Inc. d/b/a Ossipee Lake Marina
v.
Marine MGA, Inc. & a.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

The defendants appeal an order of the superior court declaring that the plaintiff is entitled to insurance coverage for damages to boat engines caused by ice, despite an exclusion for damages caused by "freezing or . . . ice which might form within . . . engines." They argue that the trial court erred by finding that the exclusion conflicted with the defendants' agreement to provide coverage so as to render the exclusion inapplicable under the terms of the policy. We reverse and remand.

The interpretation of an insurance policy is a question of law for this court to determine. See Carter v. Concord General Mut. Ins. Co., 155 N.H. 515, 517 (2007). We construe the policy "as would a reasonable person in the position of the insured based on a more than casual reading of the policy as a whole, " assigning the natural and ordinary meaning to the unambiguous language of the policy. Wilson v. Progressive N. Ins. Co., 151 N.H. 782, 788 (2005). Policy language is ambiguous only where more than one reasonable interpretation of it is possible, one of which provides coverage. See Carter, 155 N.H. at 517. An interpretation is not reasonable and does not create an ambiguity where it contravenes the express language of the policy and renders another provision of the policy to be meaningless. See Weeks v. Co-Operative Ins. Cos., 149 N.H. 174, 177-78 (2003).

The policy in this case was affixed to a jacket containing a page identifying thirteen separate "basic exclusions." The policy itself is comprised of six separate forms, each providing a different type of coverage. Immediately preceding the language defining the scope of coverage within each of the forms is the following language: "THE PROVISIONS LISTED IN THE . . . JACKET . . . TO WHICH THIS FORM IS ATTACHED APPLY TO THIS FORM ALSO. WHERE THERE IS A CONFLICT OF PROVISIONS, THE PROVISIONS OF THIS FORM APPLY."

We disagree with the trial court that, merely because the policy form at issue contains a broad grant of coverage while "Basic Exclusion D, " quoted above, excludes a class of risks from that coverage, there is either a conflict of provisions or an ambiguity. The term "conflict" denotes a "clash, competition, or mutual interference of opposing or incompatible forces or qualities." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 476 (unabridged ed. 2002). The fact that an insurance policy may, in one provision, contain a broad grant of coverage, while in a separate provision exclude certain classes of risk, does not render the two provisions incompatible, irreconcilable, or otherwise in conflict with one another. Cf. Carter, 155 N.H. at 522 (insurers have the right to limit liability by unambiguous exclusions).

Moreover, we are persuaded by the defendants' argument that the trial court's construction of the policy would render the basic exclusions meaningless. Any exclusion is, by its nature, contrary to a grant of coverage. Accordingly, to construe Basic Exclusion D as in conflict with the grant of coverage merely because it excludes a class of risk otherwise within the scope of the coverage clause would mean that none of the basic exclusions could ever qualify the scope of coverage unless they were reproduced, verbatim, within the policy form. This would effectively render the entire page of basic exclusions meaningless.

Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court erred to the extent it found Basic Exclusion D to be in conflict with the defendants' obligation to "pay all sums [the plaintiff] legally must pay for 'loss' or damage to" boats within its care, custody, or control, or to the extent it found these provisions to be ambiguous. We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this order.

Reversed and remanded.

BRODERICK, C.J, and DALIANIS and DUGGAN, JJ, ...


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