John J. Pappas On The Doctrine of Contextual Ambiguity

John J. Pappas On The Doctrine of Contextual Ambiguity

It is always reassuring when our courts’ legal decisions are consistent with common sense.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Nothing astonishes us so much as common sense and plain dealing." Of course all words are ambiguous to the extent they may have more than one meaning.  Most of the time our courts actually mean to say that a word or a phrase is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation in the context of a particular set of circumstances.  That is, there is contextual ambiguity – context within the language of the policy itself and context within the actual facts giving rise to the damages claimed.  The In Re Katrina Canal Breaches case is a poster-child for common sense and clarity in its explanation and application of this doctrine of "contextual ambiguity," as well as The United States’ Secretary of State’s best and most persuasive evidence of America’s commitment to the sanctity of contract.

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John J Pappas
  • 12-06-2007

Is this one of those issues that is clearly applied by some courts and rejected or not applied by others? Are you seeing contextual ambiguity as a trend across the country?