Significant Decisions

  • Eastern District of Pennsylvania Federal Court Judge Grants Declaratory Judgment in Favor of an Insurer and Found No Coverage Based on the Lack of an "Occurrence" Pursuant to the Terms of a Commercial General Liability Policy.
    In this Declaratory Judgment Action, which Wright & O’Donnell filed and litigated on behalf of an Insurer, regarding an underlying Pennsylvania state court suit filed by a general contractor and a property owners' group against multiple layers of contractors/subcontractors involved in the construction of the development at issue, Judge Patrese Tucker granted Judgment in favor of the Insurer, finding there was a lack of an "occurrence" under the terms of the Policy consistent with Kvaerner Metals Div. of Kvaerner U.S., Inc. v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 908 A.2d 888 (Pa. 2006). Initially, the Court reviewed the underlying state court Complaints and, despite headings labeling Counts as "Negligence," found the allegations made were clearly in the nature of faulty workmanship. Citing Kvaerner and Donegal Mut. Ins. Co. v. Baumhammers, 938 A.2d 286 (Pa. 2007), Judge Tucker found that an "occurrence" or "accident" in a Commercial General Liability (CGL) insurance policy means, "an unexpected and undesirable event occurring unintentionally, and that the key term in the definition of 'accident' is 'unexpected' which implies a degree of fortuity." The Court also noted that the "purpose" of CGL policies is "to protect the Insured from essentially accidental injury to the person or property of another rather than coverage for disputes between parties to a contractual undertaking." Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. CPB Int'l, Inc., 562 F.3d 591 (3d Cir. 2009)(citing Pennsylvania Mfrs. Assn. Ins. Co. v. LB Smith, Inc., 831 A.2d 1178 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2003)).
  • New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division Affirms Grant of Summary Judgment and Denial of Motion to Amend in Light of Insurance Policy’s One-Year Suit Limitation.
    In this Declaratory Judgment Action filed against the Insurer by the Plaintiffs/Insureds, the Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed the Trial Courts’ Orders granting Summary Judgment in favor of the Insurer as a result of the Plaintiffs’/Insureds’ failure to comply with their first-party property damage policy’s one-year suit limitation clause, and the subsequent related Denial of Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend their Complaint. The Appellate Court, mirroring the rationale provided by the Trial Court, found no basis on which to relax the application of the suit limitation period included in the Policy, and further found the Motion to Amend was properly denied, as the amendments sought by Plaintiffs were futile, as the claims to be added were not sustainable as a matter of law consistent with the summary judgment rationale.
  • Court Grants Summary Judgment in Favor Landlord with Regard to the Personal Injury Action Filed by Employee of Commercial Tenant
    In this action pursuing claims of personal injury by the employee of a commercial tenant, a New Jersey Superior Court Judge granted Summary Judgment in favor of the commercial tenant’s landlord when the allegedly negligent conduct was that of the tenant, even though the landlord was also the principal of the commercial tenant corporation. The Court further dismissed the Spoliation Count alleged by Plaintiff, as that claim was extinguished once Summary Judgment was granted in the personal injury claim.
  • Court Grants Summary Judgment in Favor of Insurer in Declaratory Judgment Action with Regard to Claim for Defense and Indemnity by Another Party as Covered Vehicle was Under Lease Not Related to Named Insured’s Business.
    In this Declaratory Judgment Action, a New Jersey Federal District Court Judge granted relief to an Insurer against a party not named as an insured under the policy who was seeking coverage for claims being pursued against them by a driver and passengers of a motor vehicle involved in a collision with a vehicle owned by the Named Insured, but while under lease and not on the Named Insured’s business. Although procedurally the matter was ruled upon pursuant to a Motion for Default Judgment, the Court found the party seeking coverage had no meritorious defense to the claim for declaratory judgment, as they were not a named insured under the policy. The Court also found that, at the time of the underlying accident, the vehicle at issue was being used under a lease agreement for a business not related to the named insured and, thus, excluded for coverage under the terms of the Policy.
  • Jury Rules in Favor of Defendant Truck Driver and Against Plaintiff Driver in Personal Injury Suit Arising out of an Intersectional Accident
    Following trial in the Burlington County Superior Court, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the Defendant Truck Driver, and against the elderly plaintiff, finding that the proximate cause of the accident at issue was plaintiff’s execution of an improper left turn. Using the light sequence records, and the testimony of a traffic engineer, the defense provided sufficient evidence for the jury to find that the traffic signal in question could not have displayed a green left turn arrow as alleged by plaintiff in her testimony.
  • Third Circuit Court Rules in Favor of Insurer Seeking Declaratory Relief under the Terms of Project and Premises Limitation Endorsement.
    In this Declaratory Judgment Action, interpreting the language of the Project and Premises Limitation Endorsement included in the Policy at issue, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the Trial Court’s finding of defense and indemnity obligations to the Named Insureds. The Circuit Court specifically found the Project and Premises Limitation Endorsement did not allow for coverage of the Named Insured as a result of an incident that did not occur at or near, or even involve the Insured premises listed in the Policy.
  • Maritime Action: Failure to State a Claim
    In a maritime action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Court granted the charterer's Motion for Summary Judgment, holding that the Plaintiffs/Shippers' failure to identify the Bills of Lading in the Complaint constituted a failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and denied Plaintiffs' attempt to amend the Complaint after the expiration of the one year period set forth in The Carriage of Goods By Sea Act of 1936, 46 U.S.C. 1300, et. seq., (COGSA). Click here for a more detailed analysis.
  • Motion for Summary Judgment Granted on Sexual Harassment Claim
    In this personal injury action involving claims of sexual harassment and assault, the New Jersey Superior Court partially granted a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Wright & O'Donnell on behalf of a Defendant, who was an alleged co-owner of a tattoo studio where Plaintiff alleged she was sexually harassed and assaulted during a tattoo procedure. The Court held that a plaintiff must produce evidence of a demonstrable psychiatric injury in order to sustain a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Click here for a more detailed analysis.
  • Court Agrees that Policy Requires Damage to Commence During Policy Period
    In this breach of contract, bad faith and declaratory judgment action, involving claims of insurance coverage under an "all risk" Policy, in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, the Hon. Mark I. Bernstein, agreed with Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London, that the Plaintiff could not proceed with its claims, given its inability to prove when the damage occurred. Plaintiff countered with an argument that it should be able to proceed, because it discovered the damage during Certain Underwriters' Policy period. The Court, however, correctly applied a Policy condition requiring damage to "commence" during the Policy period, and granted Certain Underwriters' request for declaratory relief. The Hon. Sandra M. Moss issued a concurring opinion, and the Superior Court of PA affirmed on appeal. Click here for a more detailed analysis.
  • Court Holds Contractor is not Entitled to Coverage Under Additional Endorsement Where Requisite Connection to Primary Insured's Operations was Lacking
    In this coverage action, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey granted Summary Judgment for an insurer, and held that a contractor was not entitled to coverage under an Additional Insured Endorsement where there was not the requisite connection between the contractor's liability and the operations of the primary insured. The Court also dismissed the contractor's bad faith claim against the insurer, holding that the contractor's failure to establish that it was entitled to coverage under the additional insured provision precluded its ability to establish a bad faith claim. Click here for a more detailed analysis.
  • District Court Holds That "Business Use Exclusion" in Policy Precluded Coverage for Accident
    In this coverage action, on Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held that a "Business Use Exclusion" in a Non-Trucking Liability Insurance Policy precluded coverage for an accident that occurred while a tractor (truck) was enroute to a dealership for the purpose of being sold or traded for a new tractor. Click here for a more detailed analysis.
  • Assault & Battery Exclusion Upheld: Court Agrees Alea Has No Duty to Defend or Indemnify Insureds in Underlying Action
    In this Declaratory Judgment action filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Honorable Anita Brody granted Alea London Limited's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings finding that Alea has no duty to defend or indemnify the insureds in the underlying action. The underlying action arose from a shooting on the insureds' property. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that he was shot numerous times by an unknown assailant as a result of the insureds' alleged negligent maintenance of a security lock and/or security device. Judge Brody held that "the plain, unambiguous language of the assault and battery exclusion excludes coverage for [the allegations in the underlying action]." Click here for a more detailed analysis.
  • Court Agrees Insurer Did Not Have Duty to Defend Insureds in Parking Lot Assault
    In this Declaratory Judgment Action, the Honorable Joy Flowers Conti, of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, was not convinced by either jurisdictional arguments or arguments with respect to the inapplicability of certain exclusions in the Policy, when she granted Essex Insurance Company's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. In doing so, the Court agreed that Essex Insurance Company did not have a duty to defend and/or indemnify its insureds in connection with underlying state court actions wherein it was alleged that the Plaintiff was injured by an assault and/or battery, which occurred in the parking lot of a strip club. Click here for a more detailed analysis.
  • Court Dismisses Plaintiff's Cloaked Actions as Actually an Untimely Land Use Appeal
    In this zoning case, Plaintiff asserted claims of negligence and fraud against a township in Pennsylvania. Plaintiff's claims arose from the township's issuance of a building permit for the construction of a neighboring property owner's garage, as well as the issuance of a Certificate of Nonconformance relative to the neighbor's storage of commercial equipment on their property. The Honorable Harold Thomson granted the Motion for Summary Judgment that Wright & O'Donnell, P.C., filed on behalf of the township. Quoting the township's Brief, the Court found that although Plaintiff cloaked this action as one of negligence and fraud, it was actually an untimely land use appeal. The Court held that the township was immune from Plaintiff's claims as there were no applicable exceptions to the Tort Claims Act. Finally, the Court found that the use of the property in question was a permitted, nonconforming use. Plaintiff has appealed this decision to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. Click here for a more detailed analysis.
  • Jury Rules Indemnity Provisions Do Not Indemnify Landowner's Employee
    Following trial in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, a jury returned a verdict of $5,000,000.00 in favor of Plaintiff, an employee of Landowner, and against the Parking Contractor, and found no liability on the Landowner. Following the verdict, Judge Gary DiVito ruled that the indemnity provisions in the contract between Landowner and Parking Contractor did not provide sufficient waiver language to permit the Contractor to obtain indemnity for injury to the Landowner's employee, consistent with the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act and the holding in Bester v. Essex Crane Rental Corp., 619 A.2d 304 (Pa. Super. 1993) (en banc). After the denial of Post Trial Motions, and Contractor's appeal, the Superior Court (Judges Bender, Donahue and Freedberg) affirmed Judge DeVito's rulings on the indemnity issues on the merits and, for procedural reasons, denied Contractor's other appeal arguments. Click here for a more detailed analysis.

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