INSURANCE - ST. PAUL FIRE & MARINE INSURANCE CO. V. BRITT, CONSERVATOR OF THE ESTATE OF BRITT

St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Britt, Conservator of the Estate of Britt, [Ms. 1140423, Jan. 29, 2016] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2016). Michael Britt’s sailboat disappeared on a trip from West Palm Beach, Florida, to Jacksonville, Florida. His father made a claim on the policy covering “accidental direct physical loss of or damage to” the sailboat. An exception in the policy disallowed coverage “for any loss or damage caused by or resulting from ... mysterious disappearance” of the sailboat. St. Paul denied coverage based on this exclusion. On Mr. Britt’s suit, the trial court held that the provision providing that if the boat “is destroyed or totally lost for more than thirty days” the coverage will be paid. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Mr. Britt, but the Supreme Court reverses. The Supreme Court holds that the “mysterious disappearance” provision is not ambiguous and that its common everyday meaning applies to this circumstance. The Court adopts a construction from a North Carolina opinion defining that exclusion as applying to “any disappearance or loss under unknown, puzzling, or baffling circumstances which arouse wonder, curiosity, or speculation, or circumstances which are difficult to understand or explain.” This construction does not make the “lost for more than thirty days” coverage illusory, because not all disappearances are mysterious disappearances.

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