Indiana Court of Appeals Rules Insurance Company for Bar Not Obligated to Pay Damages to Patrons Injured in Bar Fight

1156122_67969442.jpgThe Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s order granting summary judgment for the plaintiffs, and denying summary judgment for the defendants, in a dispute over insurance coverage. In Alea London, Ltd. v. Nagy, et al, two plaintiffs, who had obtained a judgment against a bar for injuries sustained in a bar fight, sued the bar’s insurance company for the judgment amount. The insurer argued that the bar fight constituted an act of battery excluded from coverage. The appeals court agreed, reversing summary judgment for the plaintiffs and instructing the trial court to grant summary judgment for the defendant.

The case originated with a fight that took place on April 30, 2004 at the Copper Penny Sports Bar in Hammond, Indiana. Plaintiff Christopher Buckler had a “verbal exchange” with a woman after he accidentally caused her to spill her drink on herself. Anthony Aponte, apparently in response to the exchange, hit Buckler over the head with a bottle. Buckler’s friend Richard Nagy, Jr., did not witness the battery on Buckler, but saw Aponte leaving the bar with Brandon Odonovich. Nagy followed them, but as soon as he stepped outside the bar, either Aponte or Odonovich struck him in the head with an object, knocking him unconscious.

Buckler and Nagy sued the Copper Penny on a premises liability theory, alleging that the bar lacked proper security. They also sued Aponte and Odonovich. The plaintiffs never served Odonovich, and the case went to a bench trial in 2007. The court entered judgments against Aponte and the Copper Penny, awarding $25,000 to Nagy and $45,000 to Buckler.

The plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce the judgment in 2009 against the Copper Penny’s insurance company, Alea London, Ltd., which had provided a commercial general liability policy to the bar. The plaintiffs moved for summary judgment in 2011, and Alea filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion and denied Alea’s motion, leading Alea to appeal.

The Court of Appeals considered the question of whether the Copper Penny’s insurance policy covered the plaintiffs’ injuries, or whether it fit under an exclusion. The policy included an Assault and Battery Exclusion that covered such acts committed by employees or agents of the insured, as well as any omissions or negligent acts on the part of the insured in failing to prevent an act of assault and battery.

The plaintiffs argued that a different exclusion, for Expected or Intended Injuries, applied to their claim. This exclusion included a clause that said it did not apply to a “use of reasonable force to protect persons or property,” meaning that injuries caused as a result of self-defense or defense of others would be covered by the policy. The court rejected this argument for two reasons. First, it cited caselaw clearly stating that a court must consider each exclusion independently of all others, meaning the court could not use the Expected or Intended Injuries exclusion to make inferences about the Assault and Battery exclusion. Second, the court noted that the plaintiffs’ argument required an assumption that Aponte and Odonovich’s actions were justified as self-defense or defense of others. The court did not accept this argument.

The attorneys at Parr Richey Obremskey Frandsen & Patterson protect the right of people in Indiana who have suffered injuries caused by intentional or negligent acts of others, helping them to obtain compensation for their damages. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers, contact us online, or call (888) 532-7766 today.

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Photo credit: ‘another beer’ by ubik2010 on stock.xchng.