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Missouri Supreme Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Business General Liability Insurer

In the case of Katina Piatt, et al. v. Indiana Lumberman’s Mutual Insurance Company, et al., SC 94364, the Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed summary judgment in favor of Indiana Lumberman’s Mutual Insurance Company, based on a policy exclusion that the plaintiffs unsuccessfully alleged was ambiguous, and should have been interpreted in their favor.

In a 6 – 1 decision handed down in April 2015, the Court held that the Commercial General Liability Policy unambiguously excluded coverage for injuries to an “employee” and that the underlying wrongful death suit against the company’s owner, its director and executive officer in the case could have only been brought against the employer.  Accordingly, the Commercial General Liability insurer owed no duty to defend or indemnify the company owner for the claim.

In the underlying action, the survivors of a company employee brought a lawsuit following the death of their relative when a large steel door from a charcoal kiln blew over and crushed her to death.  The plaintiffs alleged that the owner-director of the company was negligent in instructing his employees to lean the kiln doors upright despite knowing it was unsafe.  The defendants asked Indiana Lumberman’s Mutual Insurance Company for indemnification and to provide a defense; the insurer declined to so.  Following a trial the jury returned a verdict in the amount of seven million dollars against the company, the claim for coverage was assigned to the survivors and they brought a suit for breach under the commercial general liability and umbrella policies.

The Circuit Court applied the policy’s employee exclusions, which excluded from coverage work related injuries to employees, and granted summary judgment in favor of Indiana Lumberman’s.  The opinion was affirmed by the Supreme Court, which held that the two insurance policies were intended to insure the company and its executive officer against liability for accidental injuries to the public, while specifically and unambiguously excluding liability coverage for employees.