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Knoblock v. Prudential Property and Casualty Insurance Co.

Decided: October 19, 1992.

JOHN KNOBLOCK AND LYNN KNOBLOCK, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
PRUDENTIAL PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County.

Brody, Landau and Thomas. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.

Brody

Plaintiffs are the insureds named in a homeowners' policy issued by defendant. As a resident of plaintiffs' household, their infant son Jason is an additional insured under the terms of the policy. Jason was injured while staying at the home of his aunt and uncle, Richard and Barbara Knoblock, when he fell from a minibike that he contends they negligently permitted him to ride. Jason's mother commenced a personal-injury negligence action on his behalf against Richard and Barbara Knoblock, who in turn filed a counterclaim against Jason's mother and filed a third-party action against his father seeking indemnity or contribution.

Plaintiffs commenced this action for a judgment declaring that defendant's policy covered the claims asserted against them in the negligence action. Judge Mannion granted defendant's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the negligence claims asserted against plaintiffs fall within an exclusion in the policy. The relevant coverage and exclusion provisions of the policy respectively are as follows:

If a claim is made or suit is brought against any insured for damages because of bodily injury or property damage to which this coverage applies, we will:

a. pay up to our limit of liability for the damages for which the insured is legally liable, and

b. provide a defense at our expense . . . .

Personal Liability: We do not cover bodily injury to you or any insured . . . .

We have sustained the validity of an exclusion in a homeowners' policy for bodily injuries sustained by "any insured" covered by the policy. Foley v. Foley, 173 N.J. Super. 256, 258-260, 414 A.2d 34 (App.Div.1980). Plaintiffs argue that the language of the exclusion is ambiguous when applied to the present case because it does not expressly apply to claims or suits for indemnity or contribution.

Where the language of an insurance policy is ambiguous or vague it must be given any reasonable interpretation that will provide coverage. Kopp v. Newark Ins. Co., 204 N.J. Super. 415, 420, 499 A.2d 235 (App.Div.1985). Ambiguities in the language of an exclusion must be construed against the insurer. Boswell v. Travelers Indem. Co., 38 N.J. Super. 599, 606, 120 A.2d 250 (App.Div.1956). Where there is no genuine ambiguity, however, we may "not engage in a strained construction to support the imposition of liability." Longobardi v. Chubb Ins. Co. of New Jersey, 121 N.J. 530, 537, 582 A.2d 1257 (1990).

We agree with Judge Mannion that there is no ambiguity in the language of the exclusion. The policy plainly does "not cover bodily injury to . . . any insured." In a personal injury action, indemnity claims of someone only vicariously liable and contribution claims of a joint tortfeasor are derived solely from the "bodily injury" claim of the injured person. Where that bodily injury is allegedly sustained by "any insured," the exclusion withdraws coverage. Accord California State Auto. Assn Inter-Ins. Bureau v. Bourne, 162 Cal.App. 3d 89, 92-93, 208 Cal.Rptr. 131 (Ct.App.1984) ("Thus, the operative facts which bring an indemnity action ...


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