California Insurance Policy Interpretation

The interpretation of an insurance policy is a question of law subject to our independent review. (Bluehawk Continental Ins. Co. (1996) 50 Cal. App. 4th 1126, 1131 [58 Cal. Rptr. 2d 147].) 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 Twin City Fire Ins. Co. (1995) 37 Cal. App. 4th 1072, 1079 [44 Cal. Rptr. 2d 177].) When it comes to exclusions, the insurer bears the burden of proving the exclusion applies. Exclusionary language must be plain, clear, and conspicuous. Policy terms are ambiguous when more than one reasonable construction of the language is possible. So long as coverage is available under any reasonable construction, the insurer will be held liable. (De May Interinsurance Exchange (1995) 32 Cal. App. 4th 1133, 1136-1137 [38 Cal. Rptr. 2d 581].) If an exclusion is not ambiguous, however, it will prevail over the insuring clause and preclude coverage. (Id. at p. 1137.) 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.)