Ward v. Intermountain Farmers Ass'n

In Ward v. Intermountain Farmers Ass'n, 907 P.2d 264 (Utah 1995), the Court found ambiguity in the phrase "of safflower." Id. at 269. Ward contracted with Intermountain Farmers Association (IFA) to spray his safflower field with fertilizer and herbicide. Id. at 265. The sprayer used on Ward's field had previously been used to spray Velpar L, an herbicide strong enough to kill safflower. Id. The sprayer was not properly cleaned before it was used to spray Ward's field. Id. After his field was sprayed, a significant amount of Ward's safflower crop died. Id. In negotiating a settlement, IFA presented Ward with a release stating that upon receipt of payment for damages, Ward would "release and hold harmless Intermountain Farmers Association for any and all damages caused by the spraying of Ward's nineteen acres of safflower." Id. at 265-66. In his affidavit, Ward testified that he initially refused to sign the release because he was concerned about the lingering effects of the Velpar L on the field in which the safflower was planted and not just for the damage done to his safflower crop. Id. at 266. In his affidavit, Ward indicated that IFA told him "not to worry" and that he should "go ahead and plant beans in the field." Id. The next year, Ward's bean crop, planted in the same field, began to die. Id. IFA did not compensate Ward for the damages to his bean crop and Ward filed suit for breach of contract. Id. The Court concluded that the language of the agreement, specifically the phrase "of safflower," was susceptible to two interpretations: "Although the phrase 'of safflower' could be read to simply define the field, it could also be construed to specify the damage subject to release." Id. at 269. In finding ambiguity in Ward, the Court considered the extrinsic evidence offered by Ward in order to view the "writing in light of the surrounding circumstances." Id. at 268. However, the analysis of the evidence offered by Ward was ultimately circumscribed by the language of the agreement -- specifically by the phrase "of safflower." Id. at 269.