AMBIGUITIES MUST BE CONSTRUED IN FAVOR OF THE POLICY HOLDER

In past blog posts we discussed the legal precedence that holds that ambiguous language in an insurance policy must be construed in favor of the policy holder. Florida's legal holding was once again at the forefront of an appellate decision from the Fifth District Court of Appeal.

The case of Maddox v. Florida Farm Bureau General Ins. Co. involved a dog bite case where Florida Farm Bureau had issued a homeowner's policy. The case facts established that on the day in questions a child was heard screaming and when the mother ran into the room it was discovered that the homeowner's dog was biting her son's face. After fighting to free the child the dog then turned on Maddox and bit her face.

A claim was filed under the defendant's homeowner's policy and Florida Farm Bureau filed an action for declaratory relief seeing a determination that the entire attack constituted one "occurrence" under the policy and that Maddox was not entitled to any damages because the full $100,000 limits had already been paid to the child. The policy language in question read "All bodily injury property damage resulting from any one accident or from continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions shall be construed to be the result of one occurance." After the trial court agreed with Fla. Farm Bureau as to what constituted an occurrence an appeal was taken.

The 5th DCA overturned the trial court and held that the policy was ambiguous. The appellate court held that based on the language in the policy the entire attach could reasonably be interpreted as a single occurrence but each separate dog bite would as well. As such the court held that because ambiguities must be construed in favor of the non-drafting party, the court ruled the bite to Maddox constituted a separate occurrence entitlement Maddox to damages.

Thus the 5th DCA continues to establish Florida's legal standard that ambiguities in an insurance policy must be construed in favor of the policy holder.

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