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O'DONNELL v. INDEPENDENCE LIFE & ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY (06/21/74)

decided: June 21, 1974.

O'DONNELL, APPELLANT,
v.
INDEPENDENCE LIFE & ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY



Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, June T., 1970, No. 5428, in case of Mary O'Donnell v. Independence Life & Accident Insurance Company.

COUNSEL

Daniel J. Allan, with him Quinn, Allan and Raab, for appellant.

Albert S. Shaw, Jr., for appellee.

Watkins, P. J., Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort, and Spaeth, JJ. Opinion by Cercone, J.

Author: Cercone

[ 229 Pa. Super. Page 260]

This is an appeal from the judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia entered in favor of the defendant, Independent Life and Accident Insurance Company and against plaintiff, Mary O'Donnell.

The facts of the case, which are not in dispute, are as follows: Plaintiff herein is the named beneficiary of an automobile accident insurance policy issued by the defendant to the late John P. O'Donnell on August 17, 1957. The original terms of the policy specified benefits of $1,000 in the event that death resulted from bodily injury "sustained by the wrecking of an automobile or motor-driven truck within which the Insured [was] riding or driving." Effective September 1, 1967, defendant insurance company issued a rider to the policy, whereby coverage was increased to $10,000 for loss of life resulting from the "wrecking of an automobile" on certain designated major highways or "any limited access highway within Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware or Maryland." More importantly, the rider also amended the original policy by excluding injuries "sustained by a driver who does not hold a currently valid and proper driver's license."

[ 229 Pa. Super. Page 261]

On March 18, 1968, John P. O'Donnell, the insured, was the driver of an automobile involved in an accident on Route 309, Upper Gwynedd, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He held only a Learner's Permit issued by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles of Pennsylvania, but was accompanied by Harold E. Colligan, holder of a Pennsylvania Operator's License. Both men were killed as a result of this accident. Therefore, the sole issue in the instant dispute is the interpretation to be given the phrase, "valid and proper driver's license;" to wit, whether that phrase is broad enough to comprehend a Learner's Permit.

An insurance policy is of course a contract, and interpretation of its terms should be made in light of the apparent object and intent of the parties: Humphreys v. National Benefit Ass'n, 139 Pa. 264 (1891). However, with insurance contracts additional considerations obtain, some of which were noted in very pithy form by the Supreme Court in Beley v. Pennsylvania Mut. Life Ins. Co., 373 Pa. 231, 236-37 (1953): "Obviously the right of an insured to recover under a life insurance policy should not be left to depend upon the determination of a question not governable by any definite test either legal or factual; on the contrary, its terms and conditions should be interpreted according to some definite and uniform standard. Even were it to be conceded that the meaning of any of its terms was really involved in doubt, that doubt, according to all established canons of construction, should be resolved in favor of the insured. A policy of . . . insurance is a highly technical instrument, drawn up presumably with meticulous care by legal experts on behalf of the Insurance Company, and who not only intend to use all terms in their legal sense but know how to accomplish that result . . . ." Thus, in addition to an interpretation of the terms of an insurance policy in accordance with the apparent object and intent of the parties, the interpretation

[ 229 Pa. Super. Page 262]

    must be consistent with some definite and uniform standard, with any remaining ambiguities resolved against the insurer.

Since the operation of a motor vehicle is a privilege granted under license pursuant to statute, the interpretation of "valid and proper driver's license" must depend in large measure on statutory language.*fn1 The relevant statutory definitions are found in The ...


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