How Do Washington, D.C. Courts Interpret Insurance Policies After a Crash?

In a Washington, D.C. car crash case requiring a court to interpret a contract, general contract principles must be applied. Under Washington, D.C. law, courts will look at the contract’s written language, regardless of the parties’ intent at the time the contract was made. If a contract is not clear based on the contract’s written language, courts will consider the contract as a whole and will determine the meaning of the contract and its terms based on all of the surrounding circumstances when the contract was made. In considering the surrounding circumstances, courts will allow external evidence to be admitted to help explain and determine the parties’ beliefs and actions at the time. Courts will generally consider what a reasonable person in the parties’ positions would have thought the terms in dispute meant—unless the terms clearly had a technical or specialized meaning. In addition, if the language of a contract is open to two interpretations, courts will interpret the contract in favor of the insured.

Whose Burden Is It to Prove a Claim Is Not Covered Under an Exclusion?

Insurance policies also may contain exclusions, but exclusions must be strictly construed in favor of the insured. Further, if an insurer tries to avoid liability under an insurance policy by claiming that an exclusionary clause applies, the insurer has the burden to prove that the case falls under the specified exclusion.

In a recent case before another state’s appeals court, the court considered whether an exclusionary clause in a contract relieved the insurer after a woman was killed in a car crash. In that case, the woman was killed in a crash with another vehicle driven by a volunteer employee working for an animal welfare organization. GEICO provided personal vehicle insurance to the volunteer employee and paid out up to its policy limit of $25,000. The organization also had a commercial insurance policy with a policy limit of $1,000,000. The woman’s estate obtained a judgment against the organization of $5,000,000 and filed a claim under the commercial insurance policy. The insurer denied coverage, asserting that the coverage did not apply because the GEICO policy covered the crash.

According to the language of the contract, there was an exclusionary clause that relieved the insurer if the organization had other insurance available that afforded the same or similar coverage. The court held that the language of the GEICO policy reflected that the GEICO policy covered the employee in the crash. The amount of protection it covered was not relevant, only whether it provided any coverage. Thus, the court found the commercial policy did not apply.

Contact a Washington, D.C. Personal Injury Lawyer

Insurance companies too often try to take advantage of a Washington, D.C. car accident victim’s compromised state, hoping to get you to settle quickly and for far less than you deserve. The accident attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen have over 20 years of combined experience negotiating with insurance firms and will fight for the rights of their clients. They will pursue all parties responsible for causing a victim’s injuries. Call Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Attorneys to set up a free consultation toll-free at (800) 654-1949 or contact them online via their contact form.

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