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Allison v. Iowa Mutual Insurance Co.

Filed: October 2, 1979.

SPAULDIN ALLISON
v.
IOWA MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY



Appeal by defendant from Howell, Judge. Judgment entered 16 August 1978 in Superior Court, Henderson County. Heard in the Court of Appeals on 18 September 1979.

Hedrick, Judge. Judges Clark and Martin (Harry C.) concur.

Hedrick

Defendant's exceptions to each of the trial judge's conclusions of law present for review the single question of whether the court erred in entering judgment for plaintiff. The question is not whether plaintiff's truck was covered under the policy. It was. Rather, the question is whether the event which gave rise to the damage is excluded from the kind of loss for which the policy provides protection.

Defendant argues that the collapse of the bridge resulting in damage to plaintiff's truck was an accident by collision and that the occurrence was therefore excluded from coverage since the plaintiff had not insured this vehicle against loss by collision. Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that the collapse of the bridge did not constitute a collision and asserts that the policy includes such an occurrence under its provisions for comprehensive coverage. The relevant inquiry for this Court is thus refined into determining whether the trial judge erred in concluding that the accident occasioned by the collapse of the bridge was not a "collision" within the meaning of the policy which provides in pertinent part as follows:

1. The company will pay for loss to covered automobiles: Coverage O -- Comprehensive -- from any cause except collision ; but, for the purpose of this coverage, breakage of glass and loss caused by missiles, falling objects, fire, theft or larceny, windstorm, hail, earthquake, explosion, riot or civil commotion, malicious mischief or vandalism, water, flood, or (as to a covered automobile of the private passenger type)

colliding with a bird or animal, shall not be deemed loss caused by collision. . . . [Emphasis added.]

Elsewhere the policy defines "collision" to mean "(i) collision of a covered automobile with another object or with a vehicle to which it is attached, or (ii) upset of such covered automobile. . . ."

The principles of law with respect to the interpretation and construction of insurance policies are firmly established. As with any contract, the ultimate goal is to divine the parties' intentions at the time the policy was issued. Woods v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., 295 N.C. 500, 246 S.E.2d 773 (1978). Where the policy defines a term, that definition must be used. Conversely, nontechnical words which are not defined "are to be given the same meaning they usually receive in ordinary speech, unless the context requires otherwise." Grant v. Emmco Insurance Co., 295 N.C. 39, 42, 243 S.E.2d 894, 897 (1978) [citing Trust Co. v. Insurance Co., 276 N.C. 348, 354, 172 S.E.2d 518 (1970); Insurance Co. v. Shaffer, 250 N.C. 45, 108 S.E.2d 49 (1959); Powers v. Insurance Co., 186 N.C. 336, 119 S.E. 481 (1923)]. Moreover, if the meaning of the language " or the effect of provisions is uncertain or capable of several reasonable interpretations," Woods v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., 295 N.C. at 506, 246 S.E.2d at 777 [emphasis added], such ambiguity will be resolved in favor of the insured and against the insurance company since, as it is said, the company chose the language. Grant v. Emmco Insurance Co., supra.

In the instant case, although the policy sets out three types of occurrences that are deemed to constitute a collision, the term itself is not defined. The word is popularly understood, however, to mean a striking together of two objects. "The term denotes the act of colliding; striking together; violent contract. . . . [It] implies an impact or sudden contact of a moving body with an obstruction in its line of motion, whether both bodies are in motion or one stationary . . . ." Black's Law Dictionary 330 (4th ed. 1968). See also Morton v. Blue Ridge Insurance Co., 255 N.C. 360, 121 S.E.2d 716 (1961).

In 7 Am. Jur. 2d, Automobile Insurance ยง 65 (1963), it is said:

While the ground of a highway is considered an "object" within the meaning of a collision ...


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