09 Jun

When is a Massachusetts’ Insurance Policy Ambiguous? General Legal Principles

1.    An insurance contract is to be interpreted “according to the fair and reasonable meaning of the words in which the agreement of the parties is expressed.” Cody v. Connecticut Gen. Life Ins. Co., supra, quoting MacArthur v. Massachusetts Hosp. Serv., Inc., 343 Mass. 670, 672, 180 N.E.2d 449 (1962). Every word in an insurance contract “must be presumed to have been employed with a purpose and must be given meaning and effect whenever practicable.” Jacobs v. United States Fid. & Guar. Co., 417 Mass. 75, 77, 627 N.E.2d 463 (1994), quoting Wrobel v. General Acc. Fire & Life Assur. Corp., 288 Mass. 206, 209–210, 192 N.E. 498 (1934)
Allmerica Financial Corp. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London

Mass. 621 (2007).

2.  “[T]he construction of an insurance policy is a question of law ….” Lind-Hernández v. Hosp. Episcopal San Lucas Guayama, 898 F.3d 99, 103 (1st Cir. 2018) . “Under Massachusetts law, we construe an insurance policy under the general rules of contract interpretation, beginning with the actual language of the policies, given its plain and ordinary meaning.” AIG Prop. Cas. Co. v. Cosby, 892 F.3d 25, 27 (1st Cir. 2018). “The responsibility of construing the language of an insurance contract is a question of law for the trial judge, and then for the reviewing court.” Cody v. Conn. Gen. Life Ins. Co., 387 Mass. 142, 439 N.E.2d 234, 237 (1982). We thus must independently determine the construction of the policy. In this inquiry, “doubts about ambiguous insurance policy provisions are to be resolved against the insurance company.” J. D’Amico, Inc. v. City of Boston, 345 Mass. 218, 186 N.E.2d 716, 721 (1962). But when the policy is “plain and free from ambiguity, we do not … construe them strictly against the insurer. Rather, we must construe the words of the policy in their usual and ordinary sense.” Barnstable County Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Lally, 374 Mass. 602, 373 N.E.2d 966, 968 (1978).

     
See Federal Ins. Co. v. Raytheon Co.
426 F.3d 491 (1st Cir. 2005) (use of dictionary to evaluate the meaning of the word “based”)