posit that the general aggregate limit of $ 2 million governs this case.
This theory, while undoubtedly creative, is not plausible for two reasons: First, both common understanding of these terms and the internal language of the policy itself belie Plaintiffs' interpretation; second, case law reinforces State Farm's position. Turning first to the linguistic and grammatical flaws in their claim, Plaintiffs simply assume that the phrase "by a person" acts as a quantitative limitation, i.e., injury by a single person. However, the only reasonable interpretation of that phrase suggests that it functions as a qualitative limitation. That is to say, the policy employs the phrase "by a person" to clarify that it is human bodily injury to which the policy's protections extend.
Moreover, the internal language of the policy buttresses the interpretation of "by a person" as a qualitative, not quantitative limitation. In the paragraph that sets forth the per-occurrence limit of coverage, the policy provides that "the most we will pay for all medical expenses because of bodily injury sustained by any one person, is [$ 5,000]." Apartment Policy, Special Form 3, Section II.2. Here, the policy clearly employs language of a quantitative nature by referring to "one person." This precise numerical limitation stands in stark contrast to the indefinite article "a person." To sanction Plaintiffs' interpretation of the phrase "a person" would create an awkward internal tension within the policy by suggesting that the policy's drafters used the imprecise "a person" and the specific "any one person" synonymously.
Plaintiffs' interpretation of occurrence leads to an additional internal oddity. The policy provides that "the most we will pay for all damages because of bodily injury . . . arising out of any one occurrence is [$ 1 million]." Apartment Policy, Special Form 3, Business Liability and Medical Payments Limits of Insurance, Section II.2, 3(b). If, as Plaintiffs maintain, every instance of bodily injury constitutes a separate occurrence, the above-quoted portion of the policy would be rendered mere surplusage. Indeed, the very construction of that sentence unmistakably indicates that multiple bodily injuries may result from a single occurrence. Both state and federal courts similarly have rejected arguments akin to the one that Plaintiffs have presented by noting that, as here, the insurance policy spoke in terms of injury or damage "arising out of" an occurrence. See, e.g., Chemstar, Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 797 F. Supp. 1541, 1546-48 (C.D. Cal. 1992), aff'd, 41 F.3d 429 (9th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 517 U.S. 1219, 134 L. Ed. 2d 948, 116 S. Ct. 1847 (1996); CSX Trans., Inc. v. Continental Ins. Co., 343 Md. 216, 680 A.2d 1082, 1092 (Md. 1996).
Looking now to other jurisdictions, the vast majority of them have construed the term "occurrence," as used in insurance policies, to refer to "the cause or causes of the damage [or injury] and not to the number of injuries." Michigan Chem. Corp. v. American Home Assurance Co., 728 F.2d 374, 379 (6th Cir. 1984); see, e.g., Mead Reinsurance v. Granite State Ins. Co., 873 F.2d 1185, 1188 (9th Cir. 1988); CSX Trans., Inc. v. Continental Ins. Co., 343 Md. 216, 680 A.2d 1082, 1091 (Md. 1996). See generally id. (citing cases from numerous federal and state jurisdictions that reached similar conclusion). Although a small minority of courts have held that an occurrence is calculated by reference to the number of injuries, see Anchor Casualty Co. v. McCaleb, 178 F.2d 322, 324-25 (5th Cir. 1949); Lombard v. Sewerage & Water Bd., 284 So. 2d 905, 915-16 (La. 1973), subsequent decisions from these same courts either repudiate their earlier holdings or modify them to such an extent as to render their persuasive value de minimis. See Saint... Paul- Mercury Indem. Co. v. Rutland, 225 F.2d 689, 693 (5th Cir. 1955) ("We are convinced that the language in Anchor to the effect that a separate accident occurs with respect to each owner of damaged property was not necessary in the opinion"); id. (finding only one occurrence where there existed only one cause despite damage accruing to sixteen rail cars); Whetstone v. Dixon, 616 So. 2d 764, 773-74 (La. Ct. App. 1993) (finding only one occurrence where single automobile accident caused two different bodily injuries).
Although the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has not had the opportunity to address this issue, this Court finds no reason to part company from the overwhelming number of courts that have defined occurrence by reference to the cause of the injury, not the damage sustained. Of perhaps even greater importance "is the view of the Maryland courts, since it is to Maryland law that the courts of this jurisdiction look for guidance when there is no controlling District of Columbia case." Geico v. Fetisoff, 294 U.S. App. D.C. 279, 958 F.2d 1137, 1143 (D.C. Cir. 1992); see also Hull v. Eaton Corp., 263 U.S. App. D.C. 311, 825 F.2d 448, 453-54 (D.C. Cir. 1987) ("When there is no District of Columbia law on point we look to Maryland law for guidance); Walker v. Independence Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 555 A.2d 1019, 1022 (D.C. 1989) (same). In CSX Transportation, the Maryland Court of Appeals adopted the "cause test." See CSX Transportation, 680 A.2d at 1091-92. In the absence of direct authority from the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, this Court adopts the CSX Transportation court's conception of occurrence.
Recognizing that their interpretation may not be authoritative, Plaintiffs claim that, at the very least, it creates a sufficient ambiguity that must be resolved in their favor.
Mere disagreement over the meaning of an insurance provision, however, does not render the policy ambiguous. See Gry c e, 675 A.2d 67, 69 (D.C. 1996) ("[A] contract is not rendered ambiguous merely because the parties disagree over its proper interpretation."); cf. Geico v. Fetisoff, 294 U.S. App. D.C. 279, 958 F.2d 1137, 1144 (D.C. Cir. 1992) ("Unartful drafting does not a 'real ambiguity' make; if it did, then surely almost every contract would be vulnerable on contra proferentem grounds."). District of Columbia law considers a policy to be ambiguous only, if after according the language its common everyday meaning, it appears "reasonably susceptible to two different readings by an ordinary layperson." 958 F.2d at 1141; see also Continental Casualty Co. v. Cole, 258 U.S. App. D.C. 50, 809 F.2d 891, 896 (D.C. Cir. 1987); Meade v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 477 A.2d 726, 728 (D.C. 1984). As discussed previously, the Court finds the language of the policy to be clear and unambiguous. Additionally, the Court notes that the language is to be read in terms of what a reasonable layperson would understand. See Geico, 958 F.2d at 1141. The various verbal contortions and loose syllogisms that predicate Plaintiffs' argument are not the currency of layperson thought; instead, Plaintiffs' argument reflects the skilled thought process of counsel. There is little reason to suspect that their theory resonates clearly with laypersons.
Lastly, the Plaintiffs suggest for the first time in their Reply Memorandum that multiple occurrences exist even under a cause test. Without legal citation, Plaintiffs aver that in addition to the fire, each negligent act or omission that Mr. McPhail allegedly perpetrated constitutes either a separate occurrence or "cumulatively they certainly have the effect of a single occurrence." Pls.' Reply at 12. Plaintiffs, however, cannot escape the logic and result of the cases that they attempt to distinguish. In Travelers Indemnity Co. v. New England Box Co., 102 N.H. 380, 157 A.2d 765 (N.H. 1960), the New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that a single fire that resulted in multiple instances of property damage constituted a single occurrence. 157 A.2d at 768-69. Despite its seeming incongruity with Plaintiffs' argument, Travelers, it is urged, implicated a situation "in which the fire was the sole cause of the injury suffered." Pls.' Reply at 9. In contrast, Plaintiffs believe that the alleged negligence of the insured in the case at bar provides an additional occurrence. This attempt at distinguishing Travelers is specious. As the Plaintiffs themselves admit, the fire at issue in Travelers "was negligently set by the insured party." Pls.' Reply at 9; see also Travelers, 157 A.2d at 765 (stating that fire was "negligently kindled and managed by the defendant Box Company as [sic] its premises in Madison, N.H."). Accordingly, the Court rejects Plaintiffs' alternative argument for the existence of multiple occurrences.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court shall enter final judgment in favor of Defendant State Farm in the above-captioned case. The Court shall issue an Order consistent with the foregoing Memorandum Opinion.
October 20, 1997
United States District Judge
For the reasons expressed in the Court's accompanying Memorandum Opinion, it is, this 20 day of October, 1997, hereby
ORDERED that Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED ; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED ; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that final judgment shall be, and hereby is, entered in favor of Defendant State Farm Insurance Company on all claims in the above-captioned declaratory-judgment action; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that any and all extant motions shall be, and hereby are, declared MOOT; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that this case shall be, and hereby is, DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE from the dockets of this Court.
United States District Judge