Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Co. v. City Homes, Inc. (Maryland U.S.D.C.)

Filed: June 25, 2010
Opinion by Judge Catherine C. Blake.

Held: An insurance company will owe a duty to indemnify an insured for any judgment against it for negligence and/or negligent misrepresentation if the insured does not foresee or expect an injury resulting from a negligent act. The act of negligence is an “accident” under liability insurance.

Facts: An insurance company filed a declaratory judgment action claiming that it did not have a duty to indemnify and defend a rental property company and its president in a lawsuit filed by two minors who alleged they were exposed to lead paint. The rental property company counterclaimed and both sides moved for summary judgment.

The house in question had been a subject property in a “Lead-Based Paint Abatement and Repair & Maintenance Study.” It had undergone a lead-abatement intervention. During the time period in which the two minors lived in the house, the rental property company held commercial general liability insurance. After the rental property company sought indemnification from the insurance company, the insurance company argued that it did not owe a duty to defend or indemnify the rental property company because the underlying litigation did not involve an “occurrence,” as defined in the insurance contract.

The insurance company also argued that, even if the underlying case involved an “occurrence,” the contract’s exclusion for bodily injury that was expected or intended by the insured applies. The insurance company argued that the participation in the lead paint study showed the rental property company must have foreseen and expected the alleged injuries.

The insurance contract defined an “occurrence” as an “accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions.”

Analysis: The court applied the standard set forth in Sheets v. Brethren Mutual Insurance Company, 342 Md. 634, 679 A.2d 540 (1996). In Sheets, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that an act of negligence constitutes an “accident” under a liability insurance policy and identified the relevant inquiry to be whether the insured actually foresaw or expected the injury resulting from the insured’s negligent act. By this standard, the court held that it could not be inferred from the rental property company’s participation in the study and its knowledge of the risks of lead poisoning that it foresaw the injuries sustained by the two minors.

Granting the rental property company’s motion and denying the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment, the court held that the insurance company will owe a duty to indemnify the rental property company for any judgment against it if the rental property company is ultimately found liable for negligence and/or negligent misrepresentation because the alleged were accidental and caused by an “occurrence.”

The full opinion is available in pdf.

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