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On Why Lawyers Always Answer, “It Depends”

Shrug

I once griped to a co-worker that I look young. He told me not to worry, that I was “starting to show my age.” And, in my thirties, I guess I am. Starting to develop some wrinkles and grey hairs, but…I still look young.

I’m also female. Which is why, when someone I know actually pulls me aside to ask a legal question, my hat’s off to them. Not many people trust a young-looking female lawyer enough to ask a legal question. But then, when I tell them, “it depends,” I can almost always see the confirmation in their eyes that, “it was actually a mistake to ask her a legal question because she’s too young and too female to know what she’s talking about.” Now, if a 50-something, salt-and-pepper haired male attorney says it, they don’t think it’s flaky. But, I’m barking up a tree I didn’t mean to here, so let me get back to the point. Which is: It. All. Depends.

You have a legal question? Let me save you some time.  The answer is, it depends.

Let me give you an example of why.

I spend a lot of time on insurance contracts. Just about any injury that’s worth hiring a lawyer involves insurance.  It takes an army of smart lawyers to write an insurance contract. And a Commercial General Liability (CGL) Contract? It takes an army of really smart lawyers to write that.

I’m currently reviewing an insurance policy for a business owner, who owns some salons.  Our big question is:  is she insured if one of the beauticians unintentionally hurts someone while doing their hair/facial/etc.?  And, good grief, finding the answer in this insurance policy is like sifting through a haystack for a needle.

In the first actual page of the policy (which is about 25 pages back), we find that all “bodily injury” caused by “occurrences” during the “policy period” is included.  We must carefully deduce this meaning from the following language:

Section 1 – Coverages


COVERAGE A BODILY INJURY AND PROPERTY DAMAGE LIABILITY

1.  Insuring Agreement

a.   We will pay those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of “bodily injury” … to which this insurance applies…

b.  This insurance applies to “bodily injury” … only if:

(1)  The “bodily injury” … is caused by an “occurrence” that takes place in the “coverage territory”;
(2) The “bodily injury” … occurs during the policy period; and
(3) Prior to the policy period, no insured listed under Paragraph 1. of Section II – Who Is An Insured and no “employee” authorized by you to give or receive notice of an “occurrence” or claim, knew that the “bodily injury” … had occurred, in whole or in part …

After carefully reviewing the next 30 pages, on actual page 61 (which is helpfully labeled page 1 of 1), we find that, no, all incidents that occur as a result of salon-type operations are excluded. Meaning: the most obvious accident that could occur IS NOT COVERED BY INSURANCE. And, again, the meaning must be carefully deduced from legalese.

Finally, 10 pages later, on actual page 73 (which is helpfully labeled page 1 of 2), we find an “endorsement” which declares that it “modifies” the insurance provided under Paragraph 1. Insuring Agreement of Section 1 – Coverage A – Bodily Injury And Property Damage Liability to specifically include:

“Bodily injury” … arising out of the rendering of or failure to render professional services in connection with the operation of your business as a barbershop or beauty salon, including treatment, advice or instruction for the purposes of appearances or skin enhancement or personal grooming.”

Setting aside the question of whether a modification to the initial coverage language applies or the exclusion applies (what order should we apply them? does the order matter?), we have an insurance contract which first includes all accidents, secondly excludes all accidents associated with the salon’s business and thirdly tries to include all accidents associated with the salon’s business.  It all reeks of the kind of ambiguity that lawyers get paid to fight over in court.

And, that folks, is one example of why I generally answer, “it depends.”

About the Author

Rebecca RutzRebecca “Becky” Henning-Rutz graduated from the University of Montana with her law degree in 2006 and has been working in Kalispell ever since. Becky has been working as an associate for Henning, Keedy & Lee since 2007.View all posts by Rebecca Rutz →

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