Even an insurance practitioner’s grandmother would agree that an omitted comma can have dire consequences: compare “Let’s eat grandma with “Let’s eat, grandma.” Yet, to the possible dismay of grammar purists and grandmothers, alike, and despite acknowledging that “the placement (or omission) of one comma can make the difference,” a federal court recently found that an omitted comma in an insurance policy provision had no impact on the policy’s meaning.
The policy covered Constantin for claims related to “services directed toward expertise in banking finance, accounting, risk and systems analysis, design and implementation, asset recovery and strategy planning for financial institutions.” Constantin sought coverage for an underlying litigation that involved “services directed toward expertise in . . . accounting.” But that litigation did not involve services “for financial institutions.”
So the question was whether “for financial institutions” applied just to the service immediately preceding it or to all services identified in the provision, including accounting services. The court found that it modified the entire series, explaining that “while commas at the end of a series can avoid ambiguity, the use of such commas is discretionary.”
Bottom line: While a comma can save grandma’s life, it couldn’t save coverage here.