March 2019

Loss from a ruptured water pipe - noscitur a sociis rescues coverage

March 28, 2019 07:24
by J. Wylie Donald
A homeowner in Kentucky – even if he doesn’t read Latin – is thankful that someone does. Noscitur a sociis - a word is known by the company it keeps - is a hoary phrase, tracing its roots at least to the 17th Century and the decisions of Lord Hale. See State v. Murzda, 183 A. 305, 308 (N.J. 1936). It has a deep history too in this country. In Insurance Company v. Boon, 95 U.S. 117, 24 L.Ed. 395 (1877), the Supreme Court was called to determine whether a loss by fire accidentally spreading from a fire set by lawful military authority fell within an exclusion for “any loss or damage by fire which may happen or take place by means of any invasion, insurrection, riot, or civil commotion, or of any military or usurped power.” The Court ruled for the policyholder and held that “military power” in an exclusion capturing riots and insurrections meant only unlawful military power, which was not the cause of the fire; “[t]he maxim noscitur a sociis furnishes, in this case, the true rule of interpretation.”

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