When contracting parties express their intention in a written instrument in clear and unambiguous language, it is the court's duty to construe the written agreement according to the plain meaning of the language employed. However, where the meaning of a written contract is ambiguous, parol evidence is admissible to explain the writing. Ambiguities are both patent and latent. When, on its face, the reader can tell that something must be added to the written contract to determine the parties' intent, the ambiguity is patent; a latent ambiguity arises from undisclosed facts or uncertainty of the written instrument. However, the initial determination of the existence of an ambiguity rests with the court and if ambiguity exists, then parol evidence is admissible and the meaning of the term becomes a question for the fact finder
The parties entered into an agreement involving the installation of sewer lines. The agreement provided that Benning would receive a certain sum for supervision of the construction. However, Benning brought suit for an alleged payment deficit under the contract. The trial court, after hearing parol evidence, ruled in favor of Benning. C&A questioned the part of the judgment that awarded an amount for supervision in addition to the amount provided for in the contract, as well as the living expenses for the time Bening’s president personally supervised the construction.
Was a salary allowance for supervision inconsistent with the supervision allowance under the contract?
The court held that the contract specifically provided a sum for the supervision, and the award for the president's salary was contrary to the plain and unambiguous terms of the contract. Specifically, the court ruled that if it was the intent to have an additional sum on top of the supervision allowance, the contract should have specified the same.