INSURANCE-RELATED COURT CASES
Digested from case reports published online
Interpreting the abuse and mole-station exclusion through the lens of an objectively reasonable insured, “physical abuse” applies “to a limited subset of physically harmful treatment where the treatment is characterized by an ‘abusive’ quality such as a misuse of power or perhaps conduct so extreme as to indicate an abuser’s disposition toward inflicting pain and suffering.”
In this case the insured, William Brengle, aged 30, initiated an unprovoked attack on Leonard Miville, aged61, by punching him in the head and repeatedly kicking him after he had fallen, causing Miville to sustain serious injuries.
Brengle was charged with assault and battery on a person 60 years of age or older, and assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon (shod foot) on a person aged 60 or older; he later pleaded guilty to those charges.
After the incident, Miville sent a claim letter to Dorchester Mutual Insurance Company seeking coverage under Brengle’s parents’ homeowners policy for the injuries he sustained. Dorchester Mutual denied coverage. Thereafter, Miville commenced an action against Brengle and his parents, asserting claims of negligence and assault and battery against Brengle and negligent super-vision claims against Brengle’s parents.
In this action for declaratory relief, Dorchester Mutual filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that under the terms of the homeowners policy it issued to Brengle’s parents, the abuse and mole-station exclusion exempted coverage for claims arising out of the incident because the conduct constituted “physical abuse.” A judge in the Superior Court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of Dorchester Mutual.
The court concluded that the term “physical abuse,” in the context of the abuse and molestation exclusion, re-quired an imbalance or misuse of power attendant to the physically harmful conduct.
Because the attack was not achieved by capitalizing on or exploiting an im-balance of power, it did not fall within the meaning of “physical abuse” as it is used in the abuse and molestation exclusion.
Dorchester Mutual commenced this action seeking a judgment declaring that, under the terms of the policy, it had no duty to defend or indemnify Brengle or his parents for the personal injury claims brought against them by Miville. Dorchester Mutual filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that Brengle’s conduct constituted “physical abuse” under the terms of the abuse and molestation exclusion.
Thus, Dorchester Mutual argued, Miville’s injuries were not covered by the policy, and it had no duty to defend or indemnify Brengle or his parents. The judge agreed and granted judgment in Dorchester Mutual’s favor. Miville appealed.
On appeal, the summary judgment in favor of Dorchester Mutual was reversed, and the matter was remanded for further proceedings.
Dorchester Mutual Insurance Company v. Miville et al.—Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts—March 16, 2023—No. SJC-13308.