Firm persuades Mass. Appeals Court to uphold summary judgment in insurance coverage case

BOSTON (Aug. 20, 2012) – The firm recently persuaded the Massachusetts Appeals Court to uphold summary judgment on behalf of an insurance carrier that denied coverage for an underlying emotional distress claim.

A Massachusetts Superior Court judge had previously ruled that the policy unambiguously excluded coverage because it only covered bodily injuries and did not include psychological or emotional harm. The judge noted that the term “bodily injury” in the commercial general liability policy related to physical injuries only, and coverage didn’t encompass physical symptoms resulting from emotional distress. The judge also dismissed the policyholder’s claim of unfair insurance claims handling practices.

The Appeals Court, in upholding the ruling, noted that the plaintiff in the underlying emotional distress claim alleged that the policyholder engaged in behavior specifically excluded by the policy.

In the underlying lawsuit, the owner of an auto repair shop business obtained a judgment for monetary damages based on a claim that the policyholder landlord had caused her emotional distress by repeated harassment and threats related to unpaid rent for use of the landlord’s facility. The landlord incurred significant legal fees and defense costs related to the underlying case.

The Appeals Court also rejected the landlord’s argument that his conduct was covered as “personal and advertising injury,” which the policy defined in pertinent part as an “invasion of the right of private occupancy of premises.”

The court explained that the tenant’s complaint did not relate to the landlord’s appearance on the premises and did not deny the landlord’s right to be there, but instead related to the landlord’s harassing and threatening behavior while on the premises.

About Barton Gilman

Barton Gilman is one of New England’s leading civil litigation law firms with offices in Boston and Providence, including its highly regarded  insurance coverage and insurance coverage litigation practices. Its experienced trial attorneys appear regularly in the federal and state courts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The Providence Business News has named the firm as one of Rhode Island’s Best Places to Work for five consecutive years (2008–2012).