No Insurance Coverage Owed to Tavern in Massachusetts Inadequate Security Suit Falling Under “Assault and Battery” Exclusion

Massachusetts law requires property owners to keep their premises safe. When a business or homeowner breaches this duty and someone is hurt, the injured person can file a premises liability lawsuit seeking money damages. In a successful premises liability case, an injured person may be able to receive compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Although many premises liability cases stem from situations where a customer has slipped and fallen in a store or other business, legal liability against a business owner can also result from inadequate security measures. In order to recover in such a situation, the customer must show that the business was aware of certain dangers but failed to provide a reasonable amount of security for its customers. If you have suffered injuries as a result of a property owner’s failure to provide adequate security or otherwise maintain his or her premises in a safe condition, Cape Cod premises liability attorney John C. Manoog, III can advise you about your rights.

Patron of Tavern Attacked by Unknown Assailants While on Premises

In the recent case of Certain Interested Underwriters at Lloyds, London v. LeMons et al, the plaintiff was a patron at a tavern that was insured under a commercial general liability policy issued by Lloyds. In 2001, the patron was attacked and injured by several unknown assailants while at the tavern. In 2004, the patron and his wife sued the tavern, seeking to recover for bodily injuries and loss of consortium on a theory of negligent security by the tavern. At first, Lloyds defended the lawsuit under a reservation of rights. Eventually, however, it disclaimed any duty to defend or indemnify the tavern. As grounds, Lloyds pointed to an “assault and battery” exclusion in the insurance policy under which it insured the tavern. In 2006, the patron and the tavern agreed to a settlement of $1.2 million, and the tavern assigned its rights against Lloyds to the patron’s wife as litigation trustee. Meanwhile, Lloyds filed a declaratory judgment action against the tavern, seeking an order declaring that the patron’s lawsuit fell under the “assault and battery” exclusion of the policy.

The Issue in the Case

Did the superior court properly grant summary judgment in favor of the insurance company on the grounds that an assault and battery exclusion in the tavern’s policy relieved the insurer from any duty to defend or indemnify the tavern?

The Court’s Review of the Policy Language

The insurance policy at issue contained an “assault and battery” exclusion, which excluded coverage for bodily injury “arising out of an assault or battery, provoked or unprovoked, or out of any act or omission in connection with prevention or suppression of an assault or battery, committed by any insured or an employee or agent of the insured.” The patron and his wife argued that the exclusion applied only when an assault and battery was committed by the tavern’s agent or employee, which was not the case in the underlying claim involving the patron because his assailants were unknown.

No Ambiguity in the Exclusion

According to the court, there was no ambiguity in the assault and battery exclusion in the insurance policy provided by Lloyds.  The court found that the plain language of the exclusion, the context of the insurance policy as a whole, and prior case law excluded coverage in the patron’s lawsuit against the tavern. The underlying claims stemmed from an assault and battery, and it did not matter who committed the acts. Thus, the court affirmed the lower court’s judgment declaring that Lloyds had no duty to defend or indemnify the tavern.

If You Need Assistance with a Premises Liability Lawsuit

If you have been injured as a result of a property owner’s negligence, the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III can help you determine whether you have grounds for suit. To schedule a free initial consultation, call the office at 888-262-6664 or reach us on our contact page. Someone will be happy to discuss your case with you.

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