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Tell v. Cambridge Mutual Fire Insurance Co.

May 11, 1977


Beglin, J.d.c.


Defendant insured plaintiff and his wife under its homeowner's policy, which afforded coverage for unscheduled personal property "usual or incidental to the occupancy of the premises as a dwelling" while on the described premises, and also "such unscheduled personal property while elsewhere than on the described premises" when "owned or used by" the insured. However, coverage was excluded for "business property while away from the described premises."*fn1 The term "business" was defined to mean "a trade, profession or occupation."

On November 20, 1974 plaintiff was employed as a carpenter by a corporation solely owned by his father, and drove to the job site in Union County directly from his residence in Hunterdon County, utilizing his own station wagon. Stored in the rear of the vehicle under a cover were five boxes containing plumbing and sheet metal tools, power saws and a large assortment of nails, screws and pieces of hardware. Plaintiff removed some carpentry tools from an open box and took them to the site, returning once during the day to get some tape. Upon entering the vehicle at the end of the work day he discovered a window vent open and the boxes missing. Plaintiff testified that all of the tools and supplies, including the plumbing and sheet metal items, had been purchased by him over the years for

his personal use, some specifically in connection with improvements made by him at his present and former residences.

Plaintiff's occupation for some 20 years had been as a carpenter, not always being in the employ of his father. Occasionally he did some work for his brothers, and his brothers would also borrow the power saws and tool boxes. He testified that his employer provided "just about everything" by way of power tools and supplies, although as is customary in the carpentry trade, plaintiff furnished and used some of his own hand tools, admitting a preference due to familiarity, size, weight, fit or similar factors. In his daily activities plaintiff did not use the power saws or the plumbing or sheet metal tools. Occasionally he would use his own nails, screws and other materials, as this was more convenient than stopping work and driving to a local lumber yard or supply house. When such occurred, the items would be replaced by his employer.

Normally, the tools and boxes (with exception of the open box of carpentry hand tools) were kept at plaintiff's home, but these items had been in his vehicle since picked up at a brother's home a month or two before the loss. At the time of the loss the only tools at home were some duplicate hand tools and mechanical tools for working on motor vehicles.

The question is whether in these circumstances the tools and other items constitute "business property" under the terms of the policy exclusion. The research of counsel and the court has not produced any case in this jurisdiction or elsewhere squarely in point.

It is basic that the language of insurance policies is to be liberally construed in favor of the insured, and if two meanings may fairly be supported thereby, an interpretation favoring coverage is to be applied. Further, exclusionary clauses are to be given a strict interpretation. However, these established rules of construction are not to be applied in disregard of exclusionary language which has

clear import and intent. Courts will not rewrite a policy to provide better or different coverage than the insured purchased. Last v. West American Ins. Co. , 139 N.J. Super. 456 (App. Div. 1976), and cases cited therein at 459.

The provisions of defendant's policy clearly indicate that all of the items lost would have been covered had the loss occurred on the insured's premises. Swigert v. American Bankers Ins. Co. , 247 So. 2d 737 (Fla. D. Ct. App. 1971), cert. den. 252 So. 2d 797 (Sup. Ct. 1971). But it is apparent that the intent was to exclude such property if it fairly could be characterized as being used away from his residence in furtherance of the insured's trade or occupation. The function of the Court in construing an insurance policy

"Is to search broadly for the probable common intent of the parties in an effort to find a reasonable meaning in keeping with the expressed general purposes of the policy." [ Flynn v. Hartford ...

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