Plaintiff May not Modify Meaning of Terms of Contract After Loss
In Sayreville Seaport Associates Urban Renewal, L.P. v. Indian Harbor Insurance Company, Appeal No. 17222, Index No. 651626/21, Case No. 2022-02167, 2023 NY Slip Op 00505, Supreme Court of New York, First Department (February 2, 2023) the appellate court, as is usual for New York Appellate Courts, resolved the claim of Sayreville in brief and clear analysis.
In 2008, plaintiff entered into a long-term ground lease to develop several parcels of property located in New Jersey. In 2007, plaintiff had retained nonparty Roux Associates, Inc. to perform environmental due diligence relating to the acquisition of the property, and Roux drew a map identifying the geographic boundaries of various areas believed to include radiological soil contamination. Indian Harbor Insurance later issued a policy covering the property for the period between October 15, 2008 and October 15, 2018; the policy contained an endorsement, 15, stating that the policy excluded remediation expenses for costs arising from radiological contamination in soil on particular areas of the property.
Endorsement 15 identified those parcels by reference to the Roux map. After the policy took effect, it was discovered that remediation was required in areas not previously identified as contaminated, and in September 2018, plaintiff submitted claims regarding the discovery of radiological soil contamination in four areas on the property. As relevant here, defendant denied the claims for three of the areas, stating that under endorsement 15, they fell within the excluded geographic region in the Roux map.
The plain and ordinary meaning of the unambiguous policy terms presented to the trial, The Supreme Court, required it to correctly conclude that endorsement 15 excluded coverage for the parcels at issue because they were located within the excluded geographic areas plainly designated on the Roux map.
Plaintiff tried, but the appellate court refused, to create an ambiguity in endorsement 15 by referring to its own nomenclature for the subareas that fall within those geographic areas and then claiming that the subareas do not fall within the scope of the exclusion.
To adopt plaintiff’s interpretation of endorsement 15 and the Roux map would render the endorsement meaningless, contrary to the rules of contract interpretation.
Insurance appellate decisions are often long and annoying to read. New York appellate decisions, like this one, cut to the key issue and rule. Thank you, New York. Clear and unambiguous policy language must be applied as written and imaginative interpretation by insureds seeking coverage for losses for which they did not pay, cannot succeed.
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Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 54 years in the insurance business. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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