Friday, December 18, 2009

Superior Court allows adjustment of premiums over insured's argument of mistake

In Nat'l Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. AT Equipment, Inc., 2009 WL 3086233 (Mass. Super.), AT was insured by National. AT's insurance broker filled out and delivered to AT an insurance application when it was time to renew the policy. The broker had filled in gross sales figures from previous years despite a recent substantial increase in gross sales. AT's managers did not read the entire application, but signed it on behalf of AT.

National issued a new policy which gave National the right to audit AT's records and charge additional premiums if the audit determined that such payments were appropriate. An audit revealed that an additional $102,405 was due in premiums. It sued AT for those premiums and moved for summary judgment.

The Superior Court rejected AT's argument that the policy should be reformed (apparently by removing the clause allowing adjustment of premiums) or voided on the grounds of fraud or mistake. It rejected the fraud argument because no facts indicated actual or constructive knowledge of the falsity of the application on the part of National.

It held that the policy could not be reformed on the grounds of mutual mistake because the parties were not mistaken as to the same matters. AT was mistaken about the accuracy of the contents of its application, and National was mistaken about the appropriate premium.

The court held, finally, that the contract could not be reformed on the grounds of unilateral mistake because National had the right to conduct an audit and correct the premium. Therefore AT, the party seeking to void the contract, bore the risk of the mistake.

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