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Joel Palmer was involved in a civic organization for the Bella Vista neighborhood. He served in various roles throughout the organization, including president. In 2011, Palmer resigned from the board.

On March 10, 2012, Palmer filed a conservatorship petition over 614 Kater Street, a house located in the Bella Vista neighborhood. The property owners were furious, claiming that the petition was littered with falsities and was a backhanded way to “run the owner … out of the neighborhood.”

The petition was ultimately denied, but the owner filed suit against Palmer, his attorney and Bella Vista, claiming Palmer co-conspired with Bella Vista.

Bella Vista argued it did not have anything to do with the petition and filed preliminary objections. Palmer, too, filed preliminary objections. The court dismissed all claims against Bella Vista but overruled Palmer’s objections. At trial, the jury ruled in favor of the property owners. Palmer and his attorney owed $277,000 in attorney’s fees and emotional and punitive damages.

Twin City Fire Insurance Company provided coverage for Bella Vista and controlled its defense during the suit. Palmer initially sought defense coverage from Twin City, which agreed to the defense “under a reservation of rights until it was established that Palmer was not entitled to coverage under the policy.”

In the policy, Twin City covered “loss on behalf of any Insured Person … for a Wrongful Act by the Insured Person … duly elected or appointed” to the board of Bella Vista. It defined a wrongful act as an action “committed by an Insured Person, solely by reason of their serving in such capacity.”

When Bella Vista was dismissed from the case, Twin City withdrew its coverage of Palmer, stating that he no longer served Bella Vista or its board, and therefore did not qualify for coverage.

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In the following suit, the clause “solely by reason of their serving in such capacity” became the deciding factor on whether Palmer’s defense would be covered. His tenure at Bella Vista also came into question. Ultimately, the court ruled in favor of Twin City; Palmer would receive no defense.

Scorecard: Joel Palmer resigned from the Bella Vista board in 2011. The conservatorship petition was posted on March 10, 2012. By this point, Palmer no longer associated with Bella Vista, therefore breaking ties with the neighborhood’s insurer Twin City.

Takeaway: Insurers must provide clear language as to who and what is covered under a policy. Otherwise, it can lead to confusion over coverage and possible extraneous claims.

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]