[M04] Examples

Definitions are very important in formulating contracts, rules and legal documents. Here are some interesting real legal disputes about definitions.

§1. A definition worth US$3.5 billion

NEW YORK - An overflow crowd gathered at the normally sleepy Second Circuit Court of Appeals to hear an extended argument on the meaning of the word "occurrence." Interest in the question was intensified by the fact that $3.5 billion could be riding on the answer.

The three-judge court sitting in Manhattan was hearing arguments in the World Trade Center insurance litigation in which Larry Silverstein, who holds a 99-year lease for the buildings that were destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, is claiming that he is entitled to recover $7.1 billion from the 22 insurers of the properties, twice the ostensible policy limit, on the ground that the attack of the center was two occurrences, not one. Otherwise, he would be stuck with the $3.55 face value of the policies. - 23 July 2003

[From Forbes, 07.23.03]

NEW YORK - A federal appeals court in a ruling issued today, substantially affirmed the position taken by the insurance industry that Silverstein Properties, the leaseholder to the devastated World Trade Center, likely can claim no more than the $3.5 billion insurance policy limit.

While the appeals court did allow for a jury trial concerning the interpretation of certain terms in the contracts with 22 insurers, the court largely upheld the insurers' claim that Silverstein itself advocated a definition that would preclude its theory that the attack on the buildings should be considered two "occurrences" allowing for two separate insurance claims. The decision leaves in doubt Silverstein's financial ability to rebuild the Ground Zero site. - 26 Sept 2003.

§2. Judge: Fetuses do not count in carpool lanes

11 Jan 2006 PHOENIX (AP) - Fetuses do not count as passengers when it comes to determining who may drive in the carpool lane, a judge ruled. Candace Dickinson was fined $367 for improper use of a carpool lane, but contended the fetus inside her womb allowed her to use the lane. Motorists who use the lanes normally must carry at least one passenger during weekday rush hours. Municipal Judge Dennis Freeman rejected Dickinson's argument Tuesday, applying a "common sense" definition in which an individual is someone who occupies a "separate and distinct" space in a vehicle. "The law is meant to fill empty space in a vehicle," the judge said. Sgt. Dave Norton stopped Dickinson's car Nov. 8. When asked how many people were in the car, Dickinson said two, pointing to "her obvious pregnancy," the officer said. - ©The Associated Press

§3. Definition: The Clinton Affair [Not for children!]


When Bill Clinton was US President, he was accused of lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. In particular he was accused of lying about the fact that he had sexual relations with Monica when he received oral sex in the White House office.

According to Clinton, when he denied that he has engaged in sexual relations, this is the definition of "sexual relations" that he uses. The definition is actually taken from a particular court case :

A person engages in 'sexual relations' when the person knowingly engages in or causes contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.

Here is Clinton's explanation why he did not engage in sexual relations :

If the deponent [the person who is testifying] is the person who has oral sex performed on him, then the contact is with -- not with anything on that list, but with the lips of another person. It seems to be self-evident that that's what it is. . . . Let me remind you, sir, I read this carefully. ... any person, reasonable person would recognize that oral sex performed on the deponent falls outside the definition.

Suppose we accept the above definition of sexual relations. Should we then accept Clinton's argument that he did not engage in sexual relations when he received oral sex? Or should we say that receiving oral sex also counts as engaging in sexual relations? If you are a lawyer trying to argue for the second position, how would you go about defending your position?

§4. Is a hot dog a sandwich?

This doesn't actually involve a court case, but the British Sandwich Association has said that a hot dog is not a sandwich.

The US Merriam-Webster dictionary says it is: “Given that the definition of sandwich is ‘two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between’, there is no sensible way around it,”

So who is right? What is a sandwich? Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/distractions/offbeat/hot-dog-not-sandwich-says-british-sandwich-body

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