Endorsement clause makes insurance policy ambiguous

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Describing an insurance company’s policy as “inherently ambiguous,” the Indiana Court of Appeals has reserved the summary judgment granted by the trial court.

The COA agreed with the appellants that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Indiana Insurance Co. because the umbrella policy contained contradictions. In Gary Hammerstone, Susan Hammerstone, Palmor Products, Inc., Northhampton Farm Bureau Cooperative Association, and Cannis-Bilco Distributors, Inc., v. Indiana Insurance Co., 06A04-1211-PL-595, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order and remanded for more proceedings.

Gary Hammerstone severely injured his right hand and arm while trying to unclog the Trac-Vac, a vacuuming device for yard debris like mulched leaves, grass and sticks. In December 2009, he and his wife, Susan, filed a complaint in Pennsylvania against Palmor Products, which designs and manufactures the vacuum, and Northhampton Farm Bureau Cooperative, which sells and services the Trac-Vac. Later Cannis-Bilco Distributors, a distributor of Palmor, was added as a defendant.

Hammerstone alleged Palmor, Northhampton and CBD were, among other things, negligent; failed to property warn of the hazards of the Trac-Vac; and failed to adequately inspect the machine for defects.

Indiana Insurance, the primary insurer of Palmor, filed motions for summary judgment against Palmor, Northhampton and CBD as well as the Hammerstones. The appellants subsequently filed cross-motions for summary judgment against Indiana Insurance.

In appealing the trial court’s order, the appellants argue the lower court erred when it found the insurance company’s umbrella policy unambiguously denied covered. They alleged the policy was ambiguous because the declarations page clearly stated the policy included coverage for products-completed operations hazard but later language maintained the coverage did not apply to injuries and damages included within the operations hazard.

The COA found the umbrella policy contains an endorsement that contradicts its language defining products-completed operations hazard as “bodily injury” and “property damage.”

“Thus the Umbrella Policy states that it both provides $2,000,000 of coverage for products-complete operations and that the insurance does not apply to products-completed operations hazard injuries,” Judge James Krisch wrote for the court. “As a result, the Umbrella Policy is inherently ambiguous.”




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