This section is from the book "The Law Of Contracts", by William Herbert Page. Also available from Amazon: Commercial Contracts: A Practical Guide to Deals, Contracts, Agreements and Promises.
If terms of a contract appear on their face to be inserted for the benefit of one of the parties, he will be considered as having inserted such terms and as having chosen the language thereof. Any ambiguity in such language is therefore to be construed more strongly against the party making use of such language.1 This rule is summarized in the maxim "Fortius contra proferentem." Thus a contract of sale has been construed more strictly against the vendor;2 a contract to repair more strictly against the builder who drew it ;3 restrictions on a carrier's Common Law liability more strictly against the carrier ;4 conditions in an insurance policy more strictly against the insurer.5 This rule, if rightly applied, has especial force with reference to such contracts as are not favored by the law.
8 Dethlefs v. Tamsen, 7 Daly (N. Y.) 354.
9 Rackemann v. Improvement Co., 167 Mass. 1; 57 Am. St. Rep. 427; 44 N. E. 990.
1 Davis-, etc., Co. v. Jones, 66 Fed. 124; Supreme Council, etc., v. Casualty Co., 63 Fed. 48; 11 C. C. A. 96; Simpson v. United States, 31 Ct. CI. 217; Chambers v. United States, 24 Ct. CI. 387; Wyatt v. Irrigation Co., 18 Colo. 298; 36 Am. St. Rep. 280; 33 Pac. 144; Hill v. Mfg. Co., 79 Ga. 105; 3 S. E. 445; Mueller v. University, 195 111. 236; 88 Am. St. Rep. 194; 63 X. E. 110; affirming, 95 111. App. 258; Rogers v. Ins. Co., 121 Ind. 570; 23 N. E. 498; Bowser v. Patrick (Ky.), 65 S. W. 824; St. Landry State Bank v. Meyers, 52 La. Ann. 1769; 28 So. 136; Gillett v. Bank, 160 N. Y. 549; 55 N. E. 292; Rickerson v. Ins. Co.,
149 X. Y. 307, 313; 43 X. E. 856; Paul v. Ins. Co., 112 X. Y. 472; 8 Am. St. Rep. 758; 3 L. R. A. 443; 20 N. E. 347; Kendrick v. Ins. Co., 124 N. C. 315; 70 Am. St. Rep. 592; 32 S. E. 728; Webster v. Ins. Co., 53 O. S. 558; 53 Am. St. Rep. 658; 30 L. R. A. 719; 42 N. E. 546; D. M. Osborne & Co. v. Stringham, 4 S. D. 593; 57 N. W. 776.
2 Delogny v. Mercer, 43 La. Ann. 205; 8 So. 903.
3 Laidlaw v. Marye, 133 Cal. 170; 65 Pac. 391.
4 Texas, etc., Ry. v. Reiss, 183 U. S. 621; Hinkle v. Ry., 126 N. C. 932; 78 Am. St. Rep. 685; 36 S. E. 348; Amory Mfg. Co. v. Ry., 89 Tex. 419; 59 Am. St. Rep. 65; 37 S. W. 856.
5 London Assurance Co. v. Com-panhia de Moagens. 167 U. S. 149; First National Bank v. Ins. Co., 9?
Thus covenants for forfeitures,6 such as covenants inserted in insurance policies,7 are construed strictly against the party for whose benefit they are exacted. Thus under an insurance policy containing a provision that the policy should be incontestable after three years, and another provision avoiding the policy "if the insured die in consequence of his own criminal action," the latter clause was held not to apply after the expiration of three years.8 To have this rule apply, the contract must, on its face, show which party makes use of the language. Oral evidence is inadmissible to show which party stipulated for certain terms.9 The rule contra proferentem is not one of the favored rules of construction. Indeed, it is said that it is to be resorted to only when the other rules fail.10