What Is An Occurrence In An Insurance Policy?

Weatherford attorneys, and those in Mineral Wells, Aledo, Azle, Springtown, Hudson Park, Willow Park, Millsap, Brock, Cool, and other places in Parker County should be interested in this case.
The style of the case is, Foust v. Ranger Insurance Company. The opinion was issued by the San Antonio Court of Appeals in 1998. Here are some facts:
In 1994, Foust farmed various tracts of land which abutted land owned and farmed by Walters Farms. In May 1994, Walters Farms retained Lindeman to crop dust the milo crop on its property. The herbicide used is dangerous to cotton. Some of the herbicide drifted from the target area on to various tracts of land being farmed by Foust for cotton, causing severe damage to Foust’s cotton crop. Foust sued Lindeman, Walter Farms, and the manufacturer of the herbicide for loss of income suffered as a result of the damaged cotton crop.
Ranger insured Lindeman under an aircraft insurance policy which had limits of $100,000 per occurrence and $200,000 per policy. Ranger provided Lindeman a defense in the underlying litigation and instituted this declaratory judgment action to determine whether the damages arose from a single occurrence or multiple occurrences under the terms of the policy. The trial court granted Ranger’s Motion for Summary Judgement finding, as a matter of law, that Lindeman’s application of the herbicide on May 14, 1994, amounted to a single occurrence under the terms of the Ranger policy.
This court, in it’s holding, sustained the judgment of the trial court. In so doing, the court pointed out that Ranger’s policy contained a provision that operated to absolve Ranger of its duty to defend Lindeman if Ranger has tendered the limits of liability under the policy. The policy defines an occurrence as “a sudden event or repeated exposure to conditions involving the aircraft during the policy period, neither expected not intended by Lindeman, that cause bodily injury or property damage to others during the policy period.” Ranger argued that the property damage suffered by Foust when Lindeman applied herbicide to Walters Farms’ property was a result of repeated exposure to the same general conditions.
Foust contended that the trial court erred in finding that the damages resulted from repeated exposure to the same general condition because the evidence established that the conditions during the application process were constantly changing. Foust relied on cases in which multiple gunshots were deemed to be separate occurrences. The policies at issue in those cases, however, did not define the term “occurrence.” The damage to Foust’s crops resulted from repeated exposure to the same general conditions – the drift of a herbicide which was being applied to crops on adjoining property on May 14, 1994. Each pass of Lindeman’s plane did not result in a new occurrence, it simply resulted in the creation of the same general condition. The herbicide was applied one time, in a process that required several passes over various tracts of land.
Interpreting insurance contracts can be very difficult at times. The exact wording of the policy has to be compared with the facts of the claim being made. Different court will often times look at the same policy and same facts and have different conclusions. Hopefully, this does not happen often. When it does happen, an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court would result in a final decision that the parties would have to live with.
An experienced Insurance Law Attorney should be able to provide guidance for what is a likely out come in these cases involving policy interpretation.