Sharka Webster worked as a security guard at an apartment complex. He approached a resident, Deunithe Cireus, who was standing outside her apartment. Webster allegedly began asking Cireus questions in a hostile and aggressive manner. Cireus began arguing with Webster, and Cireus’ brother, Stanley Derival, came outside to confront Webster.
Webster allegedly punched Derival in the face and stabbed him in the stomach with a knife. Cireus’ husband came to investigate; Webster stabbed and punched him repeatedly. Both Derival and Cireus’ husband suffered injuries and were treated at a local hospital.
The Cireuses and Derival sued the apartment complex and its insurer for negligence, negligent training, negligent supervision, loss of consortium, negligence in maintaining safe premises, breach of duty, bad faith and assault and battery.
The plaintiffs argued that the apartment complex knew or should have known of Webster’s violent tendencies when he was hired. The apartment complex held a commercial liability insurance policy and the insurer defended the apartment complex against the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, but up to a limit. The insurer also filed an action seeking a declaratory judgment that it was not liable under the policy to defend or indemnify the apartment complex because the underlying plaintiffs’ claims fell under an exclusion that denied coverage for assault and battery but not for negligence.
The apartment complex argued the insurer should pay certain of the plaintiffs’ claims because the claims were based on negligence, not assault and battery. The insurer filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the exclusion should bar all claims because the negligence claims in the underlying lawsuit all stem from Webster’s violent behavior.
The district court granted the insurer’s motion for summary judgment. The court held that the insurer, per the exclusion, had no duty to defend the apartment complex related to assault and battery or indemnify the apartment complex for legal costs.
Business and property owners should remember that insurance policies may have exclusions barring responsibility in certain situations, which was the issue in this case. The lesson here is that an insurance policy did not provide full and absolute protection.
(Burlington Ins. Co. v. Normandy General. Partners, L.L.C., No. 12-60628-CIV, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, May 6, 2013. Source: Security Law Newsletter, published monthly by Strafford Publications, Atlanta, GA, straffordpub.com, 800-926-7926.)