In Bar Fight Coverage Case, Maine’s Top Court Rules That Exclusions Precluded Coverage

January 24, 2017 | Insurance Coverage

The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, affirming a trial court’s decision, has ruled that assault and battery exclusions in an insurance policy issued to a bar precluded coverage for a negligence lawsuit against the bar stemming from an alleged fight.

The Case

Barnie’s Bar & Grill, Inc., was sued by a plaintiff who alleged that he had been “violently attacked by a group of [other] patrons” while he “was a customer, licensee and invitee” at the bar. He asserted that Barnie’s Bar was liable for the attack because it had breached its duty of care to prevent or interfere with the assault by “failing to summons law enforcement and otherwise failing to interfere with the assault and battery” and because it had breached its duty of care “not to create a dangerous circumstance on its premises” by “affirmatively ejecting” him and his assailants into the parking lot at the same time.

The insurer for Barnie’s Bar declined to defend the bar, relying on its policy’s exclusions for assault and battery.

Barnie’s Bar sued and a trial court in Maine ruled in favor of the insurer.

The bar appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.

The Supreme Judicial Court’s Decision

            The court affirmed.

In its decision, the court found that the policy exclusions were “so broadly written” and the underlying complaint against the bar was “so narrowly drafted” that there were “simply no intersections between the policy and the complaint in which to find coverage.”

The court observed that the insurance policy contained “comprehensive exclusions” for claims based upon “any actual or alleged ‘assault’ or ‘battery’, or . . . any act or omission in connection with the prevention or suppression of any ‘assault’ or ‘battery’ . . . whether caused by . . . an insured, its ‘employees’, . . . patrons or any other person” and any “suit” in which the “underlying operative facts constitute ‘assault’ or ‘battery.’”

The court pointed out that the only allegations of fact and law found in the complaint against the bar related to the alleged assault and battery on the bar’s premises.

Even liberally construing the complaint in favor of Barnie’s Bar, the court concluded, there was no allegation, “or even the hint of an intent to state an allegation,” that escaped the policy’s exclusions for assault and battery.

The case is Barnie’s Bar & Grill, Inc. v. U.S. Liability Ins. Co., No. And-16-76 (Maine Dec. 20, 2016).

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  • Robert Tugander

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