Pennsylvania: Assault and Battery Exclusion Precluded Coverage of Negligence Claims Stemming from Alleged Shooting, Appeals Court Affirms

October 19, 2016 | Insurance Coverage

An appellate court in Pennsylvania, affirming a trial court’s decision, has ruled that an insurance policy’s assault and battery exclusion barred coverage of negligence claims against a bar stemming from an alleged shooting.

The Case

Jalil Walters and his wife, Rasheeda Carter, filed a negligence action against OK Café, Inc., which operated the Jazzland Bar in Steelton, Pennsylvania, and the owner of OK Café, Donald Bowers, Sr., after Walters allegedly had been shot by another patron, Eric Chambers. Walters and Carter contended that OK Café had been negligent in allowing Chambers to enter and exit the bar while armed, and in failing to ensure Walters’ safety. In addition, the complaint asserted that OK Café had failed to properly employ, train, and supervise its employees regarding the safety of its patrons, or take sufficient precautions or issue warnings to protect Walters from Chambers.

OK Café requested defense and indemnification from QBE Insurance Corporation, which had issued an insurance policy to OK Café.

QBE, believing that coverage was excluded based on the “assault and battery” exclusion contained in the policy, brought a declaratory judgment action against OK Café, Bowers, Walters, and Carter.

The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of QBE. OK Café, Bowers, Walters, and Carter appealed. They contended that the trial court had erred in finding that QBE was not obligated to defend and indemnify OK Café and Bowers based on the policy’s assault and battery exclusion. They argued that the allegations that OK Café’s negligence had been a direct cause of Walters’ injuries took the action outside the assault and battery exclusion.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The appellate court affirmed.

In its decision, it explained that the QBE policy contained a “comprehensive and expansive definition” of “assault and battery” that included allegedly negligent conduct on the part of the insured or its employees that directly harmed another person, whether through negligent failure to prevent an assault, negligence related to an actual or threatened assault, or negligence resulting in battery.

Therefore, the appellate court declared, even assuming that OK Café had breached its duty to Walters in negligently conducting its security operations, the “clear and unambiguous language of the assault and battery provision” excluded coverage. Simply put, the “myriad allegations” presented in the complaint filed by Walters and Carter fell within the scope of the definition of “assault and battery” contained in the exclusion and QBE had no duty to defend or indemnify OK Café or Bowers, the appellate court concluded.

The case is QBE Ins. Corp. v. Walters, No. 1797 MDA 2015 (Penn. Super. Ct. Sept. 9, 2016).

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