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Federal Court in Massachusetts Resolves Insurance Coverage Dispute Regarding Electric Boom Lift Injury at Trade Show

As important as it is in a Cape Cod personal injury lawsuit to be able to prove that the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, this is only one of several steps in pursuing fair compensation. Additionally, it is important that the plaintiff understand, to the fullest extent possible under the law, the insurance coverage that may be available to the various parties to the lawsuit.

Sometimes, insurance coverage issues become part of the plaintiff’s suit. They may, however, be the source of a separately filed case.

Such was the case in a recent matter arising from an accident at a trade show. Fortunately for the injured individual, the court found that liability coverage was available for the injured man’s accident.

Facts of the Case

A recent case appealed from the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts began with a personal injury lawsuit filed by a trade show attendee who was struck by an electric boom lift. The injured man and his wife filed suit against the rental company and the company that employed the lift operator, asserting claims of negligence, direct liability, and vicarious liability. This suit was filed in a state court outside Massachusetts and, at its core, claimed that the lift’s “travel arm” did not make any sound sufficient to warn the trade show attendee that he was in danger.

A dispute arose among the various insurance companies that provided liability coverage to the defendants in the trade show attendee’s lawsuit, and one of the insurance companies filed a declaratory judgment action in federal district court. In that suit, the plaintiff was one of the insurance companies that insured the employer of the lift operator, and the defendant was the company that rented the lift out to the lift operator’s employer. The federal district court ruled that rental company qualified as an additional insured under the policy at issue and that there was additional insurance coverage for both the injured man’s direct and vicarious liability claims against the lift operator and his employer. The court also ruled that this coverage was secondary to the rental company’s own coverage under a different policy with its own insurance company. Both parties appealed.

The Opinion of the Court

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated the lower court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. According to the appellate court, the plaintiff insurance company had a duty to indemnify the rental company in the injured man’s lawsuit for both direct and vicarious liability. Although the insurance company argued that only vicarious liability was covered, the court found that the plain language of an endorsement to the policy supported the rental company’s position on the issue. Even if the language had been ambiguous, the court pointed out that Massachusetts law would have favored extending the coverage.

With regard to the question of whether the plaintiff insurance company’s coverage was in excess over any other insurance available to the insurance company, the reviewing court stated that resolution of this issue boiled down to whether the rental company had “insurance.” Noting that there was a $2M self-insured retention and a $3M policy limit, the court queried whether the self-insurance qualified as “insurance” within the meaning of the law in the situation at hand. Finding that the rental company in fact had no other valid and collectible insurance, the court decided that the plaintiff insurance company’s policy did afford coverage to the rental company as to the claim filed by the injured man.

Seek Counsel About Your Injury Claim

Insurance coverage issues are fairly common in the field of personal injury litigation. Here, the insurance company filed a declaratory judgment action against one of the defendants in the injured man’s personal injury case, and it did so in a separate suit. This is not always the case; sometimes an insurance company names the injured person himself or herself as the defendant in a suit seeking judicial guidance in a coverage dispute. If you have been involved in an automobile accident or slip and fall, you need to understand the potential insurance coverage issues that may come up regarding your claim. Call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III at 888-262-6664 to learn more about your legal rights.

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