In insurance coverage declaratory relief actions, there are times an insured will argue that the insurance policy coverage is illusory. Typically, an insured will raise this illusory argument if its insurer is denying coverage based on an exclusion or limitation in the policy. If a court agrees and deems the coverage illusory, the court will construe the policy to afford coverage to the insured. This is the obvious value of the argument: coverage!
“A policy is illusory only if there is an internal contradiction that completely negates the coverage it expresses to provide.” The Warwick Corp. v. Turetsky, 42 Fla.L.Weekly D1797a (Fla. 4th DCA 2017). Thus, if a policy grants coverage in one section but then excludes the same coverage in another section, the coverage would be deemed illusory. Id. quoting Tire Kingdom, Inc. v. First S. Ins. Co., 573 So.2d 885, 887 (Fla. 3d DCA 1990). An illusory policy was found in the following examples: (a) a policy covered certain intentional torts but then excluded intended acts; (b) a policy covered advertising injury but elsewhere excluded advertising injury; and (c) a policy covered parasailing but excluded watercrafts. Id. (citations omitted). In all examples, coverage in the policy was completely swallowed up by an exclusion rendering the coverage illusory. Stated differently, coverage was completely contradicted by an exclusion in the policy rendering the policy absurd.
However, if an exclusion or limitation in the policy does not entirely swallow up the coverage, the policy is not illusory. The Warwick Corp., supra. For example, if a policy covers advertising injury but excludes advertising injury caused by a violation of law, the coverage is not illusory. The exclusion does not completely swallow up the coverage as it only excludes advertising injury cased by a violation of law. Id. (citation omitted).
In The Warwick Corp., the insured argued that the excess commercial property insurance policy that covered four hotels was illusory because its coverage was limited to the value of the hotel, which equaled the amount payable under the primary property insurance policy. Although the court acknowledged that it would be very rare that the excess policy would ever be triggered for one of the hotels, it held that the policy was not illusory because the limitation did not completely swallow up the coverage (as there was an unlikely circumstance that could trigger coverage for the hotel). Additionally, the court noted that the insured was a sophisticated entity that paid a minimum premium for minimum coverage under the excess policy for the hotel, meaning it elected to buy the policy and coverage it bought which is a choice it cannot change after-the-fact.
As you know from reading my prior posts, insurance coverage is important so make sure you know what risks are covered and what risks are not for your business interests.
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