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Alarm company's actions not covered by policies

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The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the denial of summary judgment on an insurance company's coverage defenses, ruling its insured's actions leading to a lawsuit were "errors or omissions," and so weren't covered by the commercial general liability or umbrella policies.

In Tri-Etch, Inc., d/b/a Sonitrol Security Systems of Muncie, et al. v. Cincinnati Insurance Co.,  No. 49S02-0901-CV-8, the justices unanimously held that alarm company Tri-Etch's CGL and umbrella insurance policies don't cover a wrongful death claim against Tri-Etch for delays in observing or reacting to the failure of a liquor store to make a scheduled setting of a night alarm. In 1997, Muncie liquor store clerk Michael Young was abducted and beaten just before the store's midnight closing, so the scheduled midnight alarm wasn't activated. It wasn't until 3 a.m. that Tri-Etch discovered the alarm hadn't been set. Young was found later that morning and died of his injuries.

Young's estate won a $2.5 million jury verdict against Tri-Etch in December 2004. The company had three insurance policies; at issue in this appeal is whether Cincinnati's CGL and umbrella policies cover the claim against Tri-Etch. Also disputed is whether Tri-Etch gave Cincinnati timely notice of the wrongful death claim.

In a dispute between Cincinnati, the estate, and the other insurers, the trial court ruled the estate's claim against Tri-Etch was covered by Cincinnati and ruled Tri-Etch's notice to Cincinnati was unreasonably late and no coverage under the CGL or umbrella policies was owed. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed.

Cincinnati's CGL and umbrella policies both insure against liability for "bodily injury" caused by an "occurrence." The parties disputed whether Young's death was considered an accident, which would be covered as an occurrence, but the justices concluded Tri-Etch's unintentional oversight to call about the alarm around 12:30 a.m. was an error or omission, so it's not an occurrence covered by the CGL or umbrella policies, wrote Justice Theodore Boehm.

The umbrella policy also specifically excludes bodily injury "arising out of any act, error or omission of the insured in rendering or failing to render telephone answering, alarm monitoring or similar services."

"The jury's verdict necessarily established that Tri-Etch's failure breached its contractual obligation to the store or fell below the standard of care of a reasonable alarm company," wrote the justice. "The judgment therefore was for liability squarely within the exclusions of the umbrella policy."

In determining whether Cincinnati received late notice and was prejudiced by it, the Supreme Court looked to Miller v. Dilts, 463 N.E.2d 257 (Ind. 1984). The high court disagreed with the ruling of the Court of Appeals using Miller, believing that an insurer's denial of coverage on other grounds as a matter of law doesn't rebut the presumption of prejudice from late notice.

"Even if an insurer consistently denies coverage, timely notice gives the insurer an opportunity to investigate while evidence is fresh, evaluate the claim, and participate in early settlement. The fact that an insurer asserts other coverage defenses does not render these opportunities meaningless," he wrote.

Because the high court determined Cincinnati's polices don't apply to the claim in this case, it didn't consider whether Tri-Etch's notice was late or if so, whether the late notice prejudiced Cincinnati. The trial court's denial of summary judgment in favor of Cincinnati's coverage defenses was reversed and the issue remanded with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the insurer.

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  1. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  2. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  3. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  4. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  5. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

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