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Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today

In American Family Mutual Insurance v. David Williams (SD Ind., Barker), Chief Judge Wood writes:

They say every dog has its day. This case is about a dog—specifically, Emma, a black Labrador. Emma lived in Indiana with Anthony and Jeanette Van de Venter, friends of David Williams. When Williams, then visiting the Van de Venters, took Emma outside so that she could relieve herself, she raced off toward an enticing sound and Williams was injured. Before us is the question whether American Family Mutual Insurance (AmFam), the Van de Venter’s home insurer, must cover Williams’s medical ex-penses. AmFam said no and brought this suit for a declara-tory judgment to confirm its reading of the policy. The district court, however, found in favor of the Van de Venters and Williams. We affirm. * * *

As Williams held Emma’s leash, a “woof” rang out, shat-tering the early-afternoon air. That neighborhood dog’s bark proved to be, quite literally, worse than its bite: Emma lurched toward the sound, pulling Williams to the ground and seri-ously injuring his shoulder. Williams sued the Van de Venters, alleging that they were negligent in, among other things, failing to exercise reasonable care for his safety while he was a guest in their home.

At the time of Williams’s injury, the Van de Venters’ home was insured by a home-insurance policy with AmFam. The policy included personal liability coverage indemnifying the Van de Venters for compensatory damages for bodily injury and guaranteeing a defense against suits for such damages. The policy also contained a provision stating: “Intra-Insured Suits. We will not cover bodily injury to any insured.” In relevant part, the policy defined an “insured” as “any person ... legally responsible for a[n] ... animal owned by [a named in-sured or resident relative of a named insured] to which [the policy’s personal-liability coverages] apply.”

AmFam took the position that these provisions relieved it of the duty to defend or indemnify the Van de Venters. As we noted, the district court rejected its position, and AmFam now appeals. * * *

Williams was not Emma’s owner, keeper, or bailee. He was therefore not “legally responsible” for her under Indiana law, not an insured under the policy, and not precluded from cov-erage by the policy’s provision barring intra-insured suits. AmFam owes duties to defend and indemnify the Van de Venters against Williams’s suit arising from his injuries. The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.

[p. 10] HAMILTON, Circuit Judge, concurring.

I concur with the court’s opinion and judgment holding that American Family must both defend and indemnify the Van de Venters in Williams’ claim against them for his injury. The undisputed facts show that when he visited the Van de Venters’ home and took their dog for a walk, he was not the dog’s owner or keeper under Indiana law. He therefore was not “legally re-sponsible” for the dog and so was not an “insured” whose own injury claim would be excluded from coverage.

There is another, more fundamental reason for rejecting American Family’s attempt to deny coverage. Chief Judge Wood’s opinion for the court hints at it, noting that the “intra-insured provision was not meant to preclude coverage of every guest or business invitee who drops by the house and even momentarily controls the dog.” Supra, at 7. It might be useful for future cases to explain this more fundamental problem in American Family’s theory. It has less to do with the tort law of pets and more to do with the law of liability insurance and the scope of the duty to defend.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 9, 2016 11:36 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions