One at a Time! Anti-Stacking Provision Upheld

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied appellants’ attempts to classify the language of an anti-stacking provision ambiguous in Gohagen v. The Cincinnati Ins. Co., (8th Cir., January 6, 2016).

The plaintiff was severely injured by a tree being removed by the policyholder.  He reached a settlement with the policyholder, which included the insurer’s payment of $1,000,000; that figure represented the per-occurrence limit under the commercial general liability policy (CGL). The policyholder also had a business owners package (BOP) with a $1,000,000 per-occurrence limit. The two policies contained an anti-stacking provision, which limited the coverage benefits to $1,000,000 per single injury.

Despite having exhausted the benefits limit of the CGL, the plaintiff claimed the anti-stacking language in the policies was ambiguous and brought this action. The plaintiff focused on language in the policy that recovery would be limited to the “aggregate maximum limit of the insurance,” an undefined term in the polices and claimed they were entitled to the $1,000,000 each occurrence limit of both policies, for a total of $2,000,000 of coverage.

The court was not persuaded. The Eighth Circuit found that no ambiguity existed in the policy. The plaintiff’s attempt to create an ambiguity relied on reading individual provisions in isolation and ignored the plain meaning of the policy as a whole. The court held: “By focusing solely on ‘aggregate maximum limit of insurance,’ the [plaintiffs] ignore the stipulation that the aggregate maximum limit ‘shall not exceed the highest applicable limit of insurance under any one policy.’”

The clear intention of the language in the policies is to prevent recovery for one injury under multiple policies issued. The court rejected the plaintiff’s approach noting that allowing otherwise would render the anti-stacking language meaningless. In closing the court said: “The [plaintiff’s] attempt to create an ambiguity where none exists have failed.”