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Salvatore Miglino v. Universal Property & Casualty Ins. Co., Case No. 4D13-4161 (4th DCA)

In Miglino, Salvatore Miglino appealed a summary judgment entered in favor the insurer, Universal Property & Casualty Insurance Company, which ruled the insurer had no duty to indemnify or defend its insured in a separate personal action. Harvey Stein was the insured on a policy with Universal. Stein lent a gun to his sister, who later used the gun to shoot her son-in-law, Miglino. Miglino brought suit against Stein and his sister, alleging negligent entrustment against Stein. Universal initially defended Stein, its insured, under a reservation of rights, and filed a declaratory judgment action arguing it had no duty to defend or indemnify the personal injury action under “exclusion k” of the insured’s homeowner’s policy.

The policy provides coverage for bodily injury caused by an occurrence. Exclusion K however excludes payments to others for damages arising out of sexual molestation, corporal punishment or physical or mental abuse. The policy did not define physical abuse. The trial court granted summary judgment in the insurer’s favor finding that exclusion K precluded coverage for the intentional shooting of Miglino.

On appeal, the Fourth District initially noted that where the language in an insurance contract is plain and unambiguous, a court must interpret the policy in accordance with the plan meaning so as to give effect to the policy as written. The lack of a definition of a term in a policy does not render it ambiguous or in need of interpretation by the courts. The Fourth District explained that such terms must be given their every day meaning and should be read with regards to ordinary people’s skills and experience. Florida courts use both legal and non-legal dictionaries to ascertain the plain meaning of words that appear in insurance policies.

The Fourth District turned to Black’s Law Dictionary to determine the definition of physical abuse. Physical is defined as relating or pertaining to the body, and abuse is defined as physical or mental maltreatment and to injure a person physically or mentally. The Fourth District therefore ruled that the plain meaning of physical abuse encompasses the intentional shooting of Miglino by the insured’s sister. The Fourth District rejected Miglino’s argument that exclusion K did not apply because there was no torture, torment, humiliation or degradation. The court ruled that those facts are not required for the action in question to rise to the level of physical abuse. The Fourth District affirmed.

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