Appellate Practice

A 'ridiculous' argument? 6th Circuit thinks not


A federal appeals court begins an opinion in an insurance dispute with an observation: “There are good reasons not to call an opponent’s argument ‘ridiculous.’ ”

“The reasons include civility; the near-certainty that overstatement will only push the reader away (especially when, as here, the hyperbole begins on page one of the brief); and that, even where the record supports an extreme modifier, ‘the better practice is usually to lay out the facts and let the court reach its own conclusions,’ ” according to the opinion (PDF) by the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“But here, the biggest reason is more simple: The argument that State Farm derides as ridiculous is instead correct.”

How Appealing noted the opinion, and the Washington Post quoted the introduction by Judge Raymond Kethledge.

At issue was whether a pedestrian struck by a Ford Fusion and thrown onto its hood qualified as an “occupant” under the driver’s State Farm policy. If the answer was yes, the pedestrian was covered for additional injuries sustained while on the car.

The policy had defined “occupying” as “in, on, entering or alighting from,” and the pedestrian, Barbara Bennett, was covered as a result, Kethledge wrote.

“Here, as a matter of ordinary English usage, one might be skeptical that Bennett was an ‘occupant’ of the Fusion during the time she was on its hood. Occupants are normally inside vehicles, not on them. But the parties to a contract can define its terms as they wish; and State Farm has done so here.”

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