Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Appeals Court holds motor vehicle exclusion excludes coverage for social host liability

Patrick Bernier and Julien Caron were insured under a homeowner's policy issued by MPIUA. They negligently served, supplied or permitted David DiFrancesco, a nonresident minor, to consume alcohol at the insured premises. While under the influence of that alochol, DiFrancesco negligently operated a motor vehicle, getting into an accident that injured Malcolm Berry.

Berry sued Bernier and Caron. MPIUA filed a declaratory judgment action, seeking a declaration that it had no duty to indemnify.

In Massachusetts Property Ins. Underwriting Ass'n v. Berry, 80 Mass. App. Ct. 598 (2011), MPIUA argued that the motor vehicle exclusion applied. The court agreed, on the ground that the motor vehicle exclusion categorically excluded coverage for personal injury arising out of the use of any motor vehicle.

The decision was based on changes in language in homeowner's policies. Under previous editions, coverage was excluded for losses arising only out of a vehicle owned by an insured. The change was apparently made in response to social host liability cases such as this one.

I don't like this change. In this situation -- a homeowner provides alcohol to a minor who drives away in his own car -- the homeowner's insurance is likely to have significantly higher coverage than the minor's vehicle. The homeowners were culpable in giving alcohol to a minor and letting him drive away. If their insurance isn't going to cover the loss, it should at least be because of a social host exclusion, not an automobile exclusion. That would be more straightforward and allow people to negotiate for the coverage they want.

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