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Deni Assocs. v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Ins. Co.

Supreme Court of Florida

January 29, 1998, Decided

Nos. 89,115 & 89,300

Opinion

 [*1136] CORRECTED OPINION

GRIMES, Senior Justice.

We review State Farm Fire & Casualty Insurance Co. v. Deni Associates of Florida,  [**3]   Inc., 678 So. 2d 397, 404 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996), in which the court certified the following as a question of great public importance:

Where an ambiguity is shown to exist in a CGL policy, is the court limited to resolving the ambiguity in favor of coverage, or may the court apply the doctrine of reasonable expectations of the insured to resolve ambiguities in CGL policies?

We have jurisdiction under article V, section 3(b)(4) of the Florida Constitution. In addressing this question, the court below decided two unrelated cases which involved the same issue.

Deni Associates of Florida, Inc. (Deni), an architectural engineering firm, was one of several tenants in a two-story commercial building. In the course of moving equipment in the building, ammonia was accidentally spilled from a blueprint machine. Responding to a 911 call, the fire department evacuated the building, set up ventilators, and broke windows in order to expedite ventilation.  [*1137]  The building was turned back over to the building manager six hours later. Thereafter, claims were made against Deni for personal injuries sustained from inhalation of the ammonia fumes. Claims were also made by several cotenants seeking reimbursement [**4]  for loss of income due to evacuation of the building. Deni carried a comprehensive general liability (CGL) policy with State Farm Fire and Casualty Insurance Company.

E.C. Fogg and others, doing business as the partnership of Land-O-Sun Groves (Land-O-Sun), contracted with Colony Services, Inc. (Colony) to aerially spray chemical insecticide furnished by Land-O-Sun on its citrus groves. In the course of spraying, the helicopter splashed insecticide on two men who were standing on adjacent property. The two men subsequently sued Land-O-Sun and Colony for injuries allegedly suffered as a result of being exposed to the insecticide. Land-O-Sun carried a CGL policy with Florida Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company.

In both instances, the insurance companies disputed coverage based upon a pollution exclusion provision in their respective policies. In the ensuing declaratory judgment actions, the trial courts in both cases entered summary judgments against the insurance companies. Sitting en banc, the Fourth District Court of Appeal unanimously reversed the judgment in favor of Land-O-Sun and by a split decision reversed the judgment in favor of Deni.Both pollution exclusion clauses are [**5]  substantially the same. They exclude from liability coverage any personal injury or property damage "arising out of the actual, alleged or threatened discharge, dispersal, release or escape of pollutants." 1 Further, each policy contained the following language:

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711 So. 2d 1135 *; 1998 Fla. LEXIS 84 **; 28 ELR 21069; 23 Fla. L. Weekly S 59

DENI ASSOCIATES OF FLORIDA, INC., Petitioner, vs. STATE FARM FIRE & CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Respondent. E. C. FOGG, III, et al., Petitioners, vs. FLORIDA FARM BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Respondent.

Subsequent History:  [**1]  Rehearing Denied June 11, 1998. Released for Publication June 11, 1998. As Corrected.

Prior History: Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal - Certified Great Public Importance Fourth District - Case Nos. 94-2354 94-2580 (Broward and Palm Beach Counties).

Disposition: Decision of the court below approved in both cases.

CORE TERMS

pollution, ambiguity, coverage, unambiguous, irritant, ammonia, spraying, latent, chemical, rewrite

Contracts Law, Defenses, Ambiguities & Mistakes, General Overview, Insurance Law, Policy Interpretation, Ambiguous Terms, Construction Against Insurers, Claim, Contract & Practice Issues, Exclusions, Plain Language, Commercial General Liability Insurance, Exclusions, Pollution