Monday, October 24, 2011

Appeals Court finds duty to defend where loss may have arisen out of use of excluded boat and use of a different boat that was excepted from exclusion

Jeffrey and Nicole Crispo (the Crispos) were aboard their power boat, the MSJC69, and were towing a lobster boat, the Laina Lou, owned by Steven Crispo. Steven and Dana Gagne were aboard the lobster boat. The MSJC69's propeller shaft became entangled on a mooring line. After cutting loose the Crispos were unable to restart the boat because the battery was dead. The Laina Lou dropped anchor and the two boats remained attached by the tow line. The Crispos were unable to use the running lights because of the dead battery.

Approximately ten minutes later a ferry operated by BHC collided with the two vessels.

Steven, Jeffrey, Nicole, and Gagne sued BHC for personal injuries and property damage. BHC asserted claims for indemnification and contribution against the Crispos, alleging that their negligence caused the accident.

The Crispos sought coverage for the counterclaims from Quincy Mutual, their homeowner's insurer, which filed a declaratory judgment action. The policy excluded coverage for losses arising out of use of boats, but the lobster boat fell into an exception to that exclusion.

In Quincy Mut. Fire ins. Co. v. Crispo, 80 Mass. App. Ct 484 (2011), the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that a duty to defend is triggered when a loss "arises out of" both a a use that is excluded from coverage and a use that is excepted from the exclusion.

The court noted that the underlying complaints did not distinguish between the use of the two vessels with respect to which caused the accident. Therefore, the allegations of the underlying complaints "raise the possibility that the claims against the Crispos arose from their use of the Laina Lou."

The court also noted that no anti-concurrent causation clause applies to the exclusion, although such a clause does apply to other parts of the policy. Under Massachusetts law, where an anti-concurrent cause provision is included with reference to exclusions in one part of the policy and omitted with reference to other parts of the policy, the absence of such a provision means that a loss caused by a risk excluded in the section without the provision will be covered if a covered risk also contributed to the loss.

Quincy Mutual argued that the phrase "arising out of" in the exclusion conveyed the same limitation on coverage as an anti-concurrent causation provision. While noting that "arising out of" denotes an intermediate level of causation, the court held that its use in an exclusion, without more, could not reasonably be understood as denying coverage for damages connected to the insured's simultaneous undertaking of an excluded risk and a risk specifically excepted from the exclusion, where both caused the injury.

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