Thursday, May 30, 2024

Even Whitey Bulger's crimes end in insurance coverage disputes: Town of Braintree sues multiple insurance carriers for coverage for wrongful conviction claim by man framed by Bulger


On May 24, 2024, the Town of Braintree filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court against fifteen insurers, as well as insurance companies Does 1 though 50, for refusing to defend and indemnify it in a massive wrongful conviction lawsuit.

The Town alleges that the insurers have each either refused to acknowledge or outright denied their contractual obligations under liability policies issued to the Town over the course of nearly four decades for claims that the Town is liable for the wrongful conviction and 36 year imprisonment of Frederick Weichel.  Weichel has sued the Town in federal court and has demanded tens of millions of dollars in damages. 

The complaint summarizes Weichel's allegations:  In 1980, Robert LaMonica was murdered in the Town.  The Town police investigated.  A composite sketch from details provided by a witness bore a likeness to a convicted murderer named Rocco Balliro, who had failed to return from a prison furlough.  A police report, the "Leahy report," containing this information was stored by the town in a "Basement Archive" and was not turned over to the prosecutors, Mr. Weichel, or Mr. Weichel's defense counsel.  

Mr. Weichel was convicted of the murder in 1981.  He alleges that if the Leahy report had been produced he would not have been convicted.  He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, and spent over 36 years in prison.  In 2017, after he obtained the Leahy Report and moved for a new trial, he was released and all charges against him were dropped.  In a 2018 lawsuit against the Commonwealth, a jury found that Mr. Weichel had been innocent of the murder.  

Mr. Weichel sued the Town, alleging that it had a continuing obligation to disclose disculpatory evidence throughout the entire period between 1980 and 2017, and that it was deliberately indifferent to, and breached, that duty throughout his incarceration.  He alleges that he suffered bodily injury and personal injury during each year of his incarceration.  

During these years the defendant insurers had issued law enforcement, general liability, and umbrella policies to the Town.  Most of the insurers have refused to defend and indemnify the Town.  According to the complaint, some of the insurers have asserted that the events that led to Mr. Weichel's injury took place in 1980, and therefore the only applicable insurance coverage would be a 1980 policy.

The Town asserts that the Weichel lawsuit is a "paradigmatic example of the claims that the Town's liability policies were supposed to protect it against: a suit seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages, brought against the Town by an individual who accuses the Town, its police officers, and its other managers and officials, of being responsible for his bodily injury and personal injury foreseeably resulting from him having spent thirty-six years in prison for a crime he did not commit."  

It's interesting that the complaint (as well as Weichel's complaint in federal court) does not mention his claim that he was framed by Whitey Bulger.   

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