Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Okay -- an insurer should be bound by a mutual mistake over the terms of the policy . . . sometimes

Last week I wrote a somewhat snide post about a Superior Court decision in Caron v. Horace Mann Ins. Co., a decision that was reported in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly but that I have not seen. The judge apparently held that an insurance company is bound by a mutual mistake between an insured and an agent over the terms of the policy.

My knee-jerk reaction was that the terms of the policy always trump, and that an insured is presumed to have read and understood the policy. But I can certainly see how a case could be made that if an insured believes that he or she is purchasing certain coverage, and the insurance agent, acting on behalf of the insurer, believes that he or she is selling that coverage, such coverage should be read into the policy.

Such a result could only apply in specific circumstances. Take, for example, Welch Foods, Inc. v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, __ F.3d __, 2011WL 5027445 (1st Cir.), the other case I discussed in last week's post.

If the insured had said to the agent prior to purchasing the policy, "I want to make sure that there is coverage for claims of deceptive trade practices," and the agent, speaking on behalf of the insurer, had looked at the policy and said, "Yep, there's no exclusion for that," but there actually was such an exclusion hidden under a label "AntiTrust Exclusion," then it would be fair that the insurer be bound by the mutual mistake. And maybe as the insurer is suing the agent for negligence, it could send a memo to its underwriting department to label the policy provisions more accurately.

No comments: