The Court Discusses the Use of the Term 'Accident' In General Liability Insurance Policies
In State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. CTC Development Corp., 720 So. 2d 1072 (Fla. 1998), the court had occasion to discuss the use of the term "accident" in general liability insurance policies:
The difficulty in precisely defining the scope of coverage in liability policies providing coverage for "accidents" is not a problem of recent vintage. . . . Few insurance policy terms have "provoked more controversy in litigation than the word 'accident.' "
In the forty-five years since Hardware Mutual Casualty Co. v. Gerrits 65 So. 2d 69 (Fla. 1953), the courts of this state have given varying interpretations and definitions to the term "accident," when not otherwise explicitly defined or clarified by language in the policy itself. . . .
The policy in this case, like the policy in Gerrits, leaves the term "accident" undefined.
The lack of a definition of an operative term in a policy does not necessarily render the term ambiguous and in need of interpretation by the courts.
However, where policy language is subject to differing interpretations, the term should be construed liberally in favor of the insured and strictly against the insurer.
In addition, "when an insurer fails to define a term in a policy, . . . the insurer cannot take the position that there should be a 'narrow, restrictive interpretation of the coverage provided.' "
In this case, we conclude that the term "accident" within a liability policy is susceptible to varying interpretations and should be construed in favor of the insured.
Rather than defining the term most favorably to the insured, this Court in its 1953 Gerrits opinion adopted a more restrictive definition--a definition that was improperly derived from tort law.
Moreover, the definition of "accident" set forth by this Court in Gerrits is contrary to the standardized language found in comprehensive general liability policies since 1972.
We therefore recede from Gerrits and its outmoded definition of "accident" in liability policies.
We hold that where the term "accident" in a liability policy is not defined, the term, being susceptible to varying interpretations, encompasses not only "accidental events," but also injuries or damage neither expected nor intended from the standpoint of the insured.
This definition comports with the language used in standard comprehensive general liability policies and with the definition of the term "accidental" set forth in Dimmitt Chevrolet, Inc. v. Southeastern Fidelity Ins. Corp., 636 So. 2d 700 (Fla.1993), as "unexpected or unintended." Id. at 1075-76.