Thursday, May 18, 2017

Paying For Bocephus' Bites

Alleged false statements concerning a dog's bite history and prior loss were not a proper basis to deny insurance coverage for this incident, according to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

On March 18, 2011, Schultz was walking her two Yorkshire Terriers on Harrison Avenue in Peabody. As she was walking near the Tilleys' home, their American Bulldog, Bocephus, ran out and attacked Schultz's dogs. Before Angela and other neighbors could restrain Bocephus, he injured Shultz's dogs. In attempting to protect her dogs from the attack, Schultz suffered a broken arm, a laceration to her face, and scrapes to her knees, elbows, and ankles. On March 21, 2011, [defendant] Christopher reported the incident to Tarpey, who in turn notified Vermont Mutual.

As to prior bites

Because the language is ambiguous, we must afford the Tilleys, as the insureds, the benefit of the reasonable interpretation that is most favorable to them; namely, the one that limits the biting history to humans only. Because Christopher answered that question honestly, as it is undisputed that Bocephus had only bitten other dogs, Christopher's response cannot be labeled a misrepresentation by Vermont Mutual.

 On prior loss

Given that $200 is a small fraction of the Tilleys' personal liability policy limit, we conclude that Christopher's view that such a payment would not be considered a loss for an insurance company is reasonable. Because, as the insureds, the Tilleys are entitled to the interpretation that favors them, and because it is undisputed that the $200 payment was the only disputed loss, Christopher's response to the loss history question was not a misrepresentation.

 (Mike Frisch)

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