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Eleventh Circuit concludes that corporate general liability insurance policy did not cover auto accident due to policy exclusion for vehicles with same or similar coverage under another policy

On September 29, 2017, in Southern-Owners Insurance Co. v. Easdon Rhodes & Associates LLC, No. 14-15386, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff insurance company which had filed the lawsuit as a declaratory judgment action. The plaintiff provided insurance coverage to the defendant’s company under a general liability insurance policy. An Endorsement to the policy provided accident liability coverage for certain categories of automobiles with a cap of $1 million. One of the owners of the company subsequently was involved in a motor vehicle accident involving his personally owned vehicle, which carried $25,000 in liability coverage through another insurer. When he claimed coverage under the plaintiff’s policy, the plaintiff filed this declaratory judgment action denying coverage on multiple bases, including the fact that the Endorsement contained an exclusion clause if there was “any other insurance available to you which affords the same or similar coverage.” After the district ruled in favor of the plaintiff on this issue, the defendant appealed, arguing before the Eleventh Circuit that the $25,000 policy did not provide same or similar coverage as the plaintiff’s policy because as a motor vehicle insurance policy it did not cover the set of risks as the plaintiff’s general liability insurance policy. Moreover, the defendant argued that the policy was at best ambiguous on this issue and therefore should be interpreted in favor of the insured. See Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Anderson, 756 So. 2d 29, 34 (Fla. 2000) (if policy language is susceptible to multiple, reasonable interpretations, the policy is considered ambiguous and must be “interpreted liberally in favor of the insured and strictly against the drafter who prepared the policy.” The Eleventh Circuit rejected the defendant’s argument, quoting Swire Pac. Holdings, Inc. v. Zurich Ins. Co., 845 So. 2d 161, 165 (Fla. 2003) for the principle that the mere fact that an insurance provision is “complex” or “requires analysis” does not make it ambiguous. The Eleventh Circuit noted an absence of binding authority from Florida interpreting the phrase “similar coverage” and concluded on its own textual analysis that the term “similar coverage” in the Endorsement referred to particularized risks within the policy, i.e., coverage for motor vehicle accident bodily injury and property damages, and not the entire scope of protection provided by the policy.

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