Monday, November 30, 2009

Superior Court declines to interpret against insurer policy language that was not part of preprinted form

In Dulac v. Chicago Title Ins. Co., 2009 WL 3838999 (Mass. Super.), the owner of a two-family home sued his title insurer for declining coverage when a prospective buyer backed out of the sale because of a perceived defect in the title.

The policy included an exclusion with an exception that stated:

Exception for Notice of Land Court Petition recorded with the Worcester Registry of Deeds at Book 13029, Page 124. Note: This policy affirmatively insures against loss or damage as a result of the attempted assertion of paramount title due to any matter set forth in said petition.

The insured attached to the complaint an opinion by a land court examiner which identified a likely defect in the title. At issue was whether that opinion came within the exception.

Judge Kaplan held that the exclusion was ambiguous. However, he declined to interpret it against the insurer and held that a question of fact existed as to what the parties understood the exclusion to mean at the time the policy issued. He wrote:

Although an ambiguity is generally construed against an insurer, this exclusion is not part of a preprinted form and it is possible that Dulac [the insured] understood the exclusion in the manner that Chicago Title now explains it

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