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Once Upon a Car: A Tale of Three Ambiguities

20 Green Bag 2d 143 (2017)

11 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2017  

Mark Cooney

Western Michigan University Cooley Law School

Date Written: March 15, 2017

Abstract

Using a real example from standard auto-insurance forms, this article explores ambiguity and legal drafting in depth. In a definition just ten words long, readers see vivid examples of semantic, contextual, and syntactic ambiguity -- each of which has fueled litigation across the nation. The article dissects the definition and offers insight on how it might be redrafted to cure potential ambiguity, illustrating the value of consistency, tabulation, vertical lists, and plain language. It also reveals how the visual structure of a provision can sometimes clarify and reinforce the drafter's intended meaning. The article is meant to assist transactional attorneys, legal drafters of all kinds, law professors, and law students. But it will be equally helpful to litigators who wish to fine-tune their ability to spot and exploit weaknesses in contracts and codified law.

Keywords: drafting, legal drafting, ambiguity, ambiguous, clarity, insurance, insurance forms, auto insurance, automobile insurance, definitions, plain language, legal writing, writing, editing, contract interpretation, statutory interpretation, canons of construction, rules of construction, textualism

Suggested Citation

Cooney, Mark, Once Upon a Car: A Tale of Three Ambiguities (March 15, 2017). 20 Green Bag 2d 143 (2017) . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2935338

Mark Cooney (Contact Author)

Western Michigan University Cooley Law School ( email )

2630 Featherstone Road
Auburn Hills, MI 48326
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.cooley.edu/faculty/cooney.html

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