Massachusetts Appeals Court Sides with Insured in Third Party Claim as to Insurance Coverage in Lead Poisoning Case

In most Cape Cod personal injury lawsuits, the main issue is whether the defendant should be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries and, if so, the amount of compensation to which the plaintiff is entitled for his or her medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and other damages. The defendant’s insurance company is somewhat of a “silent partner” in the case, insomuch as it pays the defendant’s legal expenses and, when all is said and done, writes the check that satisfies the jury’s verdict but is otherwise out of view.

In some cases, however, the insurance company’s participation is more direct. In a recent case, the defendants filed a third-party action against their insurance company, which they averred had wrongfully denied a claim that had been filed against them.

After the original claim between the defendants and the parties who sought compensation for certain personal injuries was settled, the defendants’ claim against the insurance company proceeded to trial – twice. After the second trial, the insurance company sought appellate review of the decision entered against it in the court below.

Facts of the Case

In a case recently decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the plaintiff was a minor child who, through his mother and next friend, filed suit against the defendant apartment owners, seeking compensation for injuries caused by the minor’s alleged exposure to lead while living in the apartment from 2007 to 2010.  The apartment owners had owned the building since 1972 and, in the early 1990s, had sought liability insurance coverage for potential lead poisoning liability. After they were sued and the defendant insurance company denied the claim against them, the apartment owners filed a third-party claim against the insurance company, asking the court to require the insurance company to provide coverage for the minor’s injuries.

After the minor and the property owners settled the case between them, the property owners’ case against the insurance company continued. The trial court entered partial summary judgment to the effect that the insurance policy at issue was not ambiguous in its non-coverage of the minor’s claims, and the case proceeded to trial on the issue of whether the defendant was estopped from denying the claims. Juries in two successive trials determined that the insurance company was estopped and, thus, was liable for the plaintiffs’ claims. The insurance company appealed.

The Appellate Tribunal’s Decision on the Issues

The appeals court vacated the judgment in the second trial, reversed the order granting a new trial after the first verdict, and directed that the first verdict be reinstated. According to the court, the evidence supported the jury’s conclusion that the property owners had expressly sought coverage for lead poisoning risks; that, under the circumstances, the insurance company had a duty to inform the property owners that the documents that they had submitted in their efforts to secure such coverage were inadequate; and, given the limited formal education of the male property owner who had interacted with the insurance company regarding this matter, the homeowners “reasonably believed” that they had coverage for lead poisoning claims such as the one brought by the minor.

Seek Legal Advice from a Cape Cod Attorney

If you have been hurt by the negligence of a Cape Cod property, you have only a limited time for filing a lawsuit. The Law Offices of John C. Manoog III handle many types of premises liability actions, including negligence, building code violations, and negligent security claims. For an appointment to discuss your claim, call us now at 888-262-6664. We represent clients in Hyannis, Plymouth, and other locals in the Cape Cod region.

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