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Friday, August 5, 2005

Cases: Dog bites insurer

Connecticut_flag_1 Where any part of a claim can possibly fall within the coverage of an insurance policy, the insurer has a duty to defend the policy holder, according to a recent decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Mitch Wylie, the owner of a dirt bike company called Strictly Dirt, Inc., had a homeowner’s policy with Hartford Casualty and commercial premises policies from Litchfield Mutual. While Wylie was at Strictly Dirt, his dog bit a two-year-old girl in the face, injuring her severely. Her parents sued both Wylie, as the dog’s owner, and Strictly Dirt, the owner of the premises.  Litchfield defended Strictly Dirt, but refused to defend Wylie, on the grounds that he wasn’t the insured. Hartford defended Wylie, settled the claim, and then sought declaratory judgment that Litchfield was liable for breach of its duty to defend.

The key here, said the court, in an opinion by Justice Christine Vertefeuille, is that the policy issued to Strictly Dirt extended to cover "your employees, for acts within the scope of their employment by you (this does not include your executive officers)."  Wylie was at least arguably an "employee" of the business he owned, and therefore within the definition.  Whether he was or was not acting within the scope of his employment in bringing the dog to the premises, the complaint contained enough information to trigger the duty to defend.

Hartford Casualty Insurance Co. v. Litchfield Mutual Fire Insurance Co., 2005 Conn. LEXIS 269 (July 19, 2005).

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