Commas Give Us Pause

As text message shorthand and quick emails have become the norm, we often forget that small grammar mistakes, like a missing comma, can change the meaning of an entire sentence.  In the world of insurance law, one grammatical error can change the meaning of whole portions of a policy and heavily influence the policyholder’s access to the coverage purchased.  At SDV, we “speak” insurance, paying attention to every last detail… right down to the commas. So, even if they don’t address insurance law directly, we take note when cases come along to remind us of the importance of that focus.

In a recent Ohio case, a defendant successfully appealed her parking violation based on the ordinance’s poor punctuation. The ordinance stated that was illegal to park “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle” on a street for more than 24 hours. The defendant argued that her truck was not a “motor vehicle camper,” and therefore the ordinance did not apply to her.

While the Village argued that anyone reading the ordinance would realize what it meant and that it was simply missing a comma, the court of appeals sided with the defendant, noting that “[b]y utilizing rules of grammar and employing the common meaning of terms, ‘motor vehicle camper’ has a clear definition that does not produce an absurd result. If the village desires a different reading, it should amend the ordinance and insert a comma between the phrase ‘motor vehicle’ and the word ‘camper.’”

Read about the Ohio case here

Geoffrey Miller and Gregory D. Podolak


Jul 08, 2015
Gregory D. Podolak

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