Maine Federal Court Holds Assault and Battery Exclusion Applicable

by Traub Lieberman Straus & Shrewsberry LLP

In its recent decision in Iasbarrone v. First Financial Ins. Co., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86605 (D. Maine June 20, 2013), the United States District Court for the District of Maine had occasion to consider the scope of an assault and battery exclusion, particularly in the context of a liability insurer’s duty to defend.
First Financial Insurance Company (“FFIC”) insured Samaritan, Inc., a food pantry, under a general liability policy. Underlying plaintiff, Lisa Iasbarrone, alleged that she was turned away from Samaritan, and that when she attempted to reenter Samaritan’s premises, she was grabbed by her left wrist and pulled down, causing her to sustain injuries to her wrist. Ms. Iasbarrone later filed suit against Samaritan, and the complaint specifically alleged that an agent of Samaritan “grabbed Plaintiff by the wrist and pulled down in an effort to prevent the Plaintiff from entering the property.” Samaritan tendered its defense to FFIC, which denied coverage on the basis of an assault and battery exclusion barring coverage for bodily injury:
(2) Arising in whole or in part out of any "assault" or "battery" committed or attempted by any person. . . . [or] (4) Arising in whole or in part out of any actual or threatened verbal or physical confrontation or altercation committed. . . by any person. . . .
Ms. Iasbarrone later settled her suit against Samaritan for $98,000 and an assignment of rights against FFIC.  She later filed a direct action against FFIC to recover the settlement amount plus legal fees she claimed FFIC owed to Samaritan for having breached its duty to defend.
On motion for summary judgment, FFIC argued that the allegation that plaintiff’s injuries were caused by physical contact demonstrated that the claim fell entirely within the exclusion. Ms. Iasbarrone, on the other hand, argued that notwithstanding the allegations in her own complaint, facts might be established at trial demonstrating that she was injured through other causes. For instance, she claimed that “the trial evidence could have established that [the insured’s agent] did not grab her, but injured her as she pulled on a door to the premises while [the agent] inadvertently pushed on the door.”
The court rejected Ms. Iasbarrone’s attempt to argue that facts could demonstrate causation other than what she alleged. The court specifically concluded that by having alleged specific facts regarding the cause of her injury, she could not then rely on the possibility that evidence introduced at trial could prove an alternate, potentially covered, cause injury. As the court explained:
The Plaintiff attempts to introduce the possibility that there was no physical contact between herself and Lavoie by inserting a door into the narrative. But this fundamentally changes the allegations of the complaint. In the complaint, the Plaintiff claims that Lavoie's negligence was the "unreasonable amount of force" he applied to her wrist. She does not claim that Lavoie injured her by pulling a door closed. Unlike a plaintiff who does not know how her injury was caused, the conduct that injured Iasbarrone--a wrist grab--was known to her, and it was part of the short and plain statement of her claim.
As such, and because the allegations of grabbing and pulling constituted an excluded act of battery, the court agreed that FFIC had no duty to defend or indemnify.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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