To the possible dismay of grammar purists, a federal court recently found that an insurance policy provision meant the same thing whether or not it included a comma before a key phrase. After poking fun at insurance policies (“long been the butt of jokes”), the court recognized that they can “provide fodder for scores of attorneys, grammarians, and logophiles” like when “the placement (or omission) of one comma can make the difference.” This case is an example.

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.