More Syntactic Ambiguity

The ever-alert Steven Sholk has informed me of another legal opinion discussing syntactic ambiguity. This one was issued by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and addresses how much of a provision in an insurance policy was modified by a closing modifier. (Click here for a copy of the opinion.)

I’m not particularly interested in what the court held, because my goal as a drafter is to avoid getting into such scrapes. But this case is yet another indication that if you want to reduce the risk of unpleasant contract-language surprises, you’d be advised to become familiar with the sources of syntactic ambiguity and how to avoid them. Chapter 11 of MSCD goes into that in excruciating detail.

Incidentally, I find that ambiguity is different from other drafting issues I deal with, in that discussing it doesn’t require hacking through legalese. Instead, it’s more of a puzzle and as such can be simpler to explicate. I gather that others share my interest, as the session on the topic at the recent ACC annual meeting was one of only two sold-out sessions.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.