California Insurance Contract Interpretation

While insurance contracts have special features, they are still contracts subject to the ordinary rules of contract interpretation. the fundamental goal of contract interpretation is to give effect to the parties' mutual intentions, which, if possible, should be inferred solely from the written terms of the policy. If that language is clear and explicit, it governs. ( General Star Indemnity Co. v. Superior Court (1996) 47 Cal. App. 4th 1586, 1592 [55 Cal. Rptr. 2d 322], hereafter General Star.) Policies must be interpreted as a whole, giving force and effect to every provision where possible. ( City of Oxnard v. Twin City Fire Ins. Co. (1995) 37 Cal. App. 4th 1072, 1079 [44 Cal. Rptr. 2d 177], hereafter City of Oxnard.) Policy provisions are ambiguous only if they are capable of two or more reasonable constructions. We will not adopt a strained or absurd interpretation to create an ambiguity where none exists. The policy terms must be construed in the context of the whole policy and the circumstances of the case and cannot be deemed ambiguous in the abstract. ( General Star, supra, 47 Cal. App. 4th at pp. 1592-1593.) If an ambiguity cannot be eliminated by the language and context of the policy, then we invoke the principle that ambiguities are construed against the party who caused the uncertainty--the insurer--in order to protect the insured's reasonable expectations of coverage. ( Id. at p. 1593.)