BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Supreme Court found that an appeals court committed legal error when it found ambiguity in the language of an insurance policy held by the Evangeline Parish Sheriff's Department.
On Feb. 3, according to court documents, the high court granted the application for writ of certiorari and summary judgment to Allied World Insurance Co. in a personal-injury case brought by a deputy sheriff.
The plaintiff, Jackie Doucet, claimed he hurt his right shoulder and arm when a chair he was sitting in gave way after he leaned back in it, which caused him to fall onto a concrete floor.
At the time, Doucet was supervising trustee inmates at the Sheriff's Department's auto repair shop.
He and his wife sued the Sheriff's Department and its insurer, Allied World, claiming the chair was defective, the chair “created an unreasonable risk of injury,” the department knew or should have known that the chair was defective and the department was negligent in failing to maintain the chair.
Allied World later moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was no coverage for the alleged injury under its Police Professional Liability Policy.
At the lower court, the judge found ambiguity in the policy's provisions and did not allow summary judgment as to coverage under the policy, the opinion stated.
Later, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court in an unpublished decision.
The Supreme Court, which reversed and remanded the case to Evangeline Parish, found that Allied World did not provide coverage for injuries that did not arise out of law-enforcement activities or out of the use of premises listed on the policy's declarations page or in any endorsement of the policy.
According to the Supreme Court opinion, the alleged accident did not arise out of the use of a "scheduled premise" as identified in the policy.
The language of the policy stated that a premise is defined as "any jail, holding cell or lock-up facility, owned or leased by, and operated by, the Named Insured at the location designated" and "any other location specifically scheduled in an Endorsement to this Policy."
The addresses listed on the declarations page did not include the address of the auto-repair shop where the alleged injury occurred.
Another exclusion in the policy, according to court documents, "personal injury or bodily injury to an employee of the insured arising out of an in the course and scope of employment by the Insured" restricted injuries "alleged against an insured by an entity or person who is not an insured."
"Applying the ordinary and prevailing meaning of employee, we find the plaintiff was clearly an employee of the Sheriff's Department and thus an Insured under the policy," the opinion stated. "Therefore, the plaintiff's claims are not covered by the policy's definition of Bodily Injury and the specific provision excluding coverage for Bodily Injury."
The court also noted that the policy did not provide coverage for injuries sustained by an insured or an employee of the insured during employment and did not cover injuries that did not arise out of law-enforcement activities or out of the use of premises listed on the policy's declarations page.
"Therefore, under the clear and unambiguous language of the policy, the injuries sustained by the plaintiff in the course and scope of his employment at a location not listed in the policy would not be covered by the policy," the per curiam order stated.
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson would have denied the insurance company's petition for writ of certiorari, according to court documents.