This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Mutual Insurance Company,
Jay M. Winger, et al.,
Darren M. Reineccius,
Isanti County District Court
File No. C899190
James L. Haigh, Andrea E. Reisbord, Cousineau, McGuire & Anderson, Chartered, 600 Travelers Express Tower, 1550 Utica Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55416-5318 (for respondent Austin Mutual)
John R. Crawford, Susan E. Gustad, Johnson & Lindberg, P.A., Suite 1610 8500 Tower, 8500 Normandale Lake Boulevard, Minneapolis, MN 55437-3828 (for appellants)
Willard L. Wentzel, Jr., W.L. Wentzel, Jr. & Associates, PLLC, Suite 220, 6100 Green Valley Drive, Bloomington, MN 55438 (for respondent Reineccius)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.
Respondent Austin Mutual Insurance Company successfully obtained from the trial court a summary judgment that its homeowners’ policy covered only a parcel of 11-13 acres owned by the insureds when the policy was purchased. The insureds, appellants Jay and Lynn Winger, contend the policy is broadly written to cover all their subsequent land acquisitions within a certain section of rural land. This contention is supported by appellant Foremost Insurance Company, which wrote coverage for a mobile home located near the site where an accident produced injuries that prompted a negligence claim against the appellant landowners. Because the breadth of respondent’s policy is ambiguous but cannot be construed in favor of the insured, we affirm.
In 1989, appellants Jay and Lynn Winger purchased a home and a surrounding plot of land consisting of approximately 11 acres, located in the southwest portion of a 40-acre parcel in Isanti County, Minnesota. They purchased a homeowners’ insurance policy in 1991 from respondent Austin Mutual; the policy describes the insured premises as the house, the grounds at that location, and “other premises shown on the declaration.” The declaration page of the policy states the name and address of the insureds and the insurance agent, describes the coverage and policy endorsement, and contains the following section to describe the insured premises:
LEGAL LOCATION OF INSURED PROPERTY OR PREMISES –
NO SEC TWP RGE COUNTY ACRES CITY/DESCRIPTION STATE ZIP
01 ISANTI MN 55040
S33-T35-R24 ISANTI CO MN
Several years later, the Wingers purchased the remaining portion of the 40-acre parcel, land lying north of their original acquisition, and the 40 acres located to its east.
On the east 40-acre tract, which the Wingers purchased with another party, the landowners developed a mobile home site. The Wingers and the other owner of the property purchased commercial rental-mobile-home insurance from appellant Foremost. This policy names Jay Winger and the co-owner of the 40-acre area as insureds and lists the address of the mobile home as the principal location, and states that coverage extends to a lienholder. The policy provided liability coverage for damages caused by an accident on the insured premises.
The Wingers and the co-owner of the mobile home and the east 40 parcel rented the mobile home to various people. In February 1998, shortly after a tenant had moved out of the mobile home, the departing tenant and Jay Winger were using Winger’s bobcat (a motorized vehicle with an attached scoop device) to move some cars, and the tenant was injured when he fell from the bucket of the bobcat. The tenant sued the Wingers, claiming that his injuries were caused by their negligence.
Presented with a claim of liability for the tenant’s injuries, Austin Mutual instituted this declaratory-judgment action and obtained a summary judgment. The trial court judge found that, because the Wingers owned only 11 acres when they bought the Austin Mutual policy, it “strains credibility and logic” and was “neither reasonable nor equitable” to view the insurance policy’s coverage for any area beyond the original parcel of 11-13 acres. Ultimately the court found that the insurance policy was unambiguous in its breadth. On appeal, the Wingers and Foremost contend that the policy is ambiguous and must be construed in favor of the insureds, covering liability for an incident occurring on property purchased by the insureds after the policy was first written.
In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, this court must determine whether genuine issues of material fact exist and whether the trial court erred in applying the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). The interpretation and construction of an insurance policy are matters of law that the trial court properly determines on summary judgment and that we review de novo. Iowa Kemper Ins. Co. v. Stone, 269 N.W.2d 885, 886-87 (Minn. 1978). The evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was granted. Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).
This case turns solely on a construction of the language on insured premises that respondent Austin Mutual provided on the declarations page of the homeowners’ policy. The trial court, attempting to apply contract principles, concluded that no matter what words or figures were employed in the policy, it could not provide more coverage than that actually sought and purchased by insureds.
The contract may be ambiguous, but this does not necessarily determine this dispute. Although ambiguities normally will be enforced against the insurance company, this may not be the case where the “result of such a construction” would “be beyond the reasonable expectations of the insured.” Rusthoven v. Commercial Standard Ins. Co., 387 N.W.2d 642, 645 (Minn. 1986). Although this court “cannot construe a policy so strictly in favor of the insurer as to virtually absolve it of all liability,” it similarly cannot “construe it so strictly against the insurer as to create a new contract imposing additional liability on it.” Employers Mut. Liab. Ins. Co. v. Eagles Lodge, 282 Minn. 477, 480, 165 N.W.2d 554, 556 (1969) (citation omitted).
The broader coverage suggested by appellants is not stated unambiguously in the contract. It is evident that the declarations page includes a provision for specifying the number of acres of insured property and this information has been omitted. Moreover, although the policy anticipates a description of the insured premises on the declarations page, only the “legal location” of the premises is stated. Finally, nothing in the policy suggests that its coverage would extend to land not owned by insureds but acquired after the policy had been written.
In construing the language of the policy, this court may take into consideration such things as “the situation existing at the time the policy was issued” and “the risk intended to be covered.” Wilson v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 187 Minn. 462, 465, 245 N.W. 826, 828 (1932). There is no evidence, that when the policy was issued, either party expected that the policy would cover risks beyond those that might occur on the original purchase of land. It is beyond appellants’ reasonable expectations to require respondent to insure under that policy property acquired after the original purchase.