No Right to Indemnity After Policy Limit Exhausted


Post 4702

See the full video at  https://rumble.com/v44waj2-no-right-to-indemnity-after-policy-limit-exhausted.html and at https://youtu.be/Pl-tuUjAG28

Denis Mucha sustained injuries after he was assaulted by employees at defendant MDF 92 River Street, LLC d/b/a Wild Moose Saloon and The Birch (MDF) (the bar) in Hoboken, New Jersey while a patron. Plaintiff Watford Specialty Insurance Company (Watford) insured MDF. Watford filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that its obligation to provide insurance coverage to MDF arising out of Mucha’s lawsuit were satisfied under its endorsement for assault and battery claims, and Watford’s $1,000,000 limit of liability had been exhausted.

In Watford Specialty Insurance Company v. MDF 92 River Street, LLC, d/b/a Wild Moose Saloon & The Birch, and Matthew Garcia and Dashon Brown, Defendants, And Denis Mucha, No. A-3505-21, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (December 22, 2023)

Mucha appealed from two Law Division orders entered on June 21, 2022, denying his motion for summary judgment and granting Watford’s cross-motion for a declaratory judgment barring coverage beyond the $192,325.51 amount that was already paid to Mucha and that exhausted Watford’s aggregate policy limit.

Mucha alleged defendants Matthew Garcia and Dashon Brown, bouncers at the bar, negligently assaulted him resulting in “severe and permanent” injuries. Mucha alleged Garcia’s and Brown’s conduct was “intentional but having unintended results,” and was “malicious, wanton, and reckless.” In his complaint, Mucha also alleged MDF “recklessly, carelessly, and/or negligently fail[ed] to properly hire, retain, train and/or supervise competent security,” resulting in his injuries.

THE POLICY

Watford issued a Commercial General Liability Policy (the Policy) to MDF. The Policy provided coverage up to $1,000,000 per occurrence and in the aggregate. There were five losses during the relevant Policy period, including Mucha’s claim.

Watford advised its insured MDF regarding Mucha’s claim, advising there was a sublimit of coverage for assault or battery related claims up to $1,000,000 per occurrence and in the aggregate. Watford advised Mucha’s counsel that there were five losses during the Policy period, including Mucha’s claim. The letter advised that as of December 18, 2020, the four other losses were resolved for a total pay-out of $799,920.53, leaving a remainder of $200,079.47 on the Policy’s eroding limits.

The trial court found that the facts of this case were more in line with that of an assault than wrongful eviction, considering that the arbitrator found that Mucha was grabbed and pulled down the stairs by a “security employee.”

ANALYSIS

When interpreting insurance contracts, appellate courts first examine the plain language of the policy and, if the terms are clear, they are to be given their plain, ordinary meaning.

Mucha, a business invitee, was forcefully removed from the bar as found by the arbitrator. The arbitrator’s determination that a security officer “grabbed [Mucha] and pulled him toward the stairs and then threw him down the stairs” resulting in personal injury describes “events more in line with that of assault then wrongful eviction.”

Watford has consistently maintained that Mucha’s claim arose out of an alleged assault perpetrated by MDF’s employees. Watford was not a party in the underlying lawsuit and could not file a trial de novo from the arbitrator’s award. Moreover, Watford has always asserted it was only responsible for the remaining portion of the $1,000,000 policy limit in it defense of MDF.

The arbitration award in favor of Mucha did not bar Watford’s amended declaratory judgment action seeking to limit its responsibility to the remainder of the aggregate policy limits.

The allegations in the amended complaint in the Mucha lawsuit-whether phrased as negligent assault or wrongful eviction-all arise out of the assault of Mucha by MDF employees.

Since the Assault and Battery Exclusion precludes coverage for any “bodily injury” claim “directly or indirectly” “arising out of” an “assault” or “battery,” the exclusion applies, barring coverage in excess of the aggregate limit.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court’s decision was correct when if awarded Watford summary judgment.

Watford lived up to its mistake to insure the bar against assault and battery and paid out its policy limit of $1,000,000 to five different victims of the insured’s bouncers. Adding insult to the injury, Mr. Mucha tried to get around the assault and battery limit by claiming he was wrongfully evicted from the premises to obtain access to a different policy limit. The trial failed since throwing him down a flight of stairs was a clear battery and fit within the limit.

(c) 2024 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

Please tell your friends and colleagues about this blog and the videos and let them subscribe to the blog and the videos.

Subscribe to my substack at https://barryzalma.substack.com/publish/post/107007808

Go to Newsbreak.com  https://www.newsbreak.com/@c/1653419?s=01

Go to the podcast Zalma On Insurance at https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/barry-zalma/support; Go to Barry Zalma videos at Rumble.com at https://rumble.com/c/c-262921; Go to Barry Zalma on YouTube- https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCysiZklEtxZsSF9DfC0Expg;  Go to the Insurance Claims Library – http://zalma.com/blog/insurance-claims-library.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button