Not all personal injury claims are the result of accidents. There are many situations in which a victim is injured by the deliberate–even criminal–conduct of one or more parties. Victims often face additional legal challenges when seeking compensation for such injuries, in part because many insurance companies will not indemnify the responsible parties against criminal acts.
Capitol Specialty Insurance Corporation v. PTAV, Inc.
A recent decision by a federal judge in Atlanta helps to illustrate this problem. This case involves a Marietta woman–identified in court records only as “P.M.”–who was abducted, robbed, and sexually assaulted multiple times by a group of men. The abduction itself occurred in the parking lot at a commercial center.
P.M. subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit in Georgia superior court against the owner of the property, a company called RJV, and three of the businesses that operated in the commercial center. One of these business owners is a company called PTAV, which operated a restaurant. Essentially, P.M. alleges that the negligent security of RJV, PTAV, and the other businesses led to her abduction and sexual assault.
P.M.’s lawsuit remains pending in state court. Meanwhile, separate litigation broke out in federal court between P.M., RJV, PTAV, and PTAV’s insurance company over who is liable for any potential judgment that P.M. obtains in state court.
Here is a brief explanation of the problem. PTAV has a lease with RJV. That lease requires PTAV to “indemnify and defend” RJV, as the landlord, against certain civil claims, as well as maintain a general liability insurance policy to protect both companies. RJV has such a policy, but it excludes any claim “arising from, resulting from, or in connection with” acts of “assault or battery,” which include “sexual abuse” or “sexual assault.”
Before the federal court, the insurance company maintained that P.M.’s lawsuit clearly falls under this assault or battery exclusion. P.M., however, argued that some of her claims “do not arise solely from an assault or battery,” and that the policy exclusion should be “interpreted narrowly” and held inapplicable to her case.
U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash, Jr., disagreed and issued a declaratory judgment in favor of the insurance company. He noted the exclusion was not as narrow as P.M. claimed. To the contrary, the policy stated that the insurer was not responsible for any injuries sustained “in connection with” a sexual assault. Here, the judge said all of P.M.’s injuries “are clearly substantially related to [her] sexual assault and abduction.” Any other crime that occurred, such as the robbery, must “ultimately stem” from the initial act of assault.
So, the insurance company is not required to indemnify or defend either PTAV or RJV against P.M.’s state lawsuit. That said, Judge Thrash said PTAV may still be on the hook, under the terms of its lease, to indemnify RJV. The judge said it was too soon to make a final determination of this issue, however, because the state court has yet to establish whether either company is liable for P.M.’s injuries.