Monday, July 13, 2009

Does A Policy For the "Mutual Benefit" of Two Parties Provide Additional Insured Coverage to One?

Kassis v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co.
--- N.E.2d ----, 2009 WL 1789223 (N.Y.), 2009 N.Y. Slip Op. 05207

In this case, the Court of Appeals addressed the issue whether the provision in a lease requiring a tenant to procure a commercial general liability policy for the “mutual benefit” of the tenant and landlord, was sufficient to allow the landlord to claim additional insured status pursuant to the broad form additional insured endorsement of the policy?

This obviously was not an easy question. After the landlord obtained summary judgment, the Fourth Department reversed with two justices dissenting. The Appellate Division found that the purchase of insurance by the tenant for itself provided a mutual benefit on both the landlord and the tenant, even if the landlord was not an additional insured. If the lease had intended additional insured coverage, it should have so indicated. The Court of Appeals however, in a unanimous decision, reversed the Fourth Department.

It noted that the subject lease provided that the tenant “at its sole cost and expense and for the mutual benefit of Landlord and Tenant, shall maintain a general liability policy ... providing coverage against claims for bodily injury, personal injury and property damage” with specified aggregate and per occurrence coverage amounts.

The Court framed the issue by asking whether the lease required the tenant to ensure the landlord received coverage equivalent to the coverage the tenant enjoyed. The Court of Appeals found that “the natural and intended meaning of the term “mutual benefit” as used in this provision is that [the landlord and the tenant] are intended to enjoy the same level of coverage. The Court found evidence of this in several other insurance related provisions which required either joint or singular coverage. The court found that where coverage for to be joint, it was so noted.

Given the Court’s reliance on other language in the contract to establish the meaning of the term mutual benefit, it is not altogether clear whether the Court was holding that the term “mutual benefit” is now hereinafter the equivalent to the term “shall name an additional insured.” It is assumed that they are now the equivalent, but such might still be challenged where there is some compelling evidence suggesting this was not the intent.

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