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Standard Venetian Blind Co. v. American Empire Ins. Co.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

April 21, 1983, Argued ; December 30, 1983, Decided

No Number in Original

Opinion

 [*302]   [**564]  OPINION OF THE COURT

This appeal presents the question of whether appellee Standard Venetian Blind Company (Venetian), the insured under a policy of liability insurance issued by appellant American Empire Insurance Company (American), may avoid the effect of a clear and unambiguous exclusion clause in the insurance contract by showing that it was neither made aware of nor understood the effect of the exclusion. We conclude that the lack of knowledge or understanding of a [***2]  clearly drafted exclusion clause in a written contract of insurance executed by both parties does not render the clause unenforceable. Hence we reverse the Superior Court's determination to the contrary, and remand the record to the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County with the direction that judgment be entered in favor of American.

The present controversy has its origin in an action in assumpsit filed by D.H. Evans against Venetian and one of its partners,  [**565]  appellee Sheldon B. Morris, in which Evans sought to recover for damages to a portico installed by a subcontractor of Venetian pursuant to a contract between Venetian and Evans. The portico had been installed in April of 1974 on property owned by Evans, and was destroyed completely in January of 1978 when it collapsed during a heavy snowstorm. The collapse of the portico also caused damage to property owned by Evans which had been stored underneath the portico. Evans' complaint, which alleged breaches of implied and express warranties, sought damages of $ 13,826.56, the cost of replacing the portico, and additional damages of $ 880, the cost of repairing the items stored beneath the portico plus the cost [***3]  of labor needed to remove the collapsed structure.

 [*303]  At the time of the filing of the action in assumpsit, Venetian was the insured under a liability policy issued by American in May of 1975. The contract was executed on behalf of Venetian by appellee Morris and on behalf of American by Boris H. Levitsky, an employee of Block Brothers Insurance Company, which acted as agent for American. The policy, which took effect May 1, 1975, provided personal injury and property damage liability coverage for all "sums which the insured shall be legally obligated to pay as damages . . . ." The policy further provided that American had "the right and the duty to defend any suit against the insured seeking damages on account of such bodily injury or property damage" up to the policy limits.

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503 Pa. 300 *; 469 A.2d 563 **; 1983 Pa. LEXIS 791 ***

STANDARD VENETIAN BLIND CO. and Sheldon B. Morris, v. AMERICAN EMPIRE INSURANCE CO., Appellant. Appeal of AMERICAN EMPIRE INSURANCE CO.

Subsequent History:  [***1]  Reargument Denied February 22, 1984.

Prior History: No. 81-3-478, Appeal from Order of the Superior Court dated August 21, 1981, at No. 4 Philadelphia, 1981, affirming the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County at No. 1005 of 1978, 295 Pa.Super. 576, 435 A.2d 926 (1981).

CORE TERMS

insured, coverage, insurance company, portico, property damage, products, terms, damages, subcontractor, contractor, ambiguity, cases, custody or control, liability policy, unambiguous, collapsed, declarations, assumpsit, warranty, parties, court of common pleas, insurance policy, perform work, businessman, destruction, workmanship, premium, bridge, hazard, general liability policy

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