Assurant must defend horse farm in golf cart accident

An Assurant Inc. unit must defend a horse farm and equestrian center in a golf cart accident, a federal appeals court said Monday, in overturning a lower court ruling.

St. Charles, Illinois-based St. Charles Farms LLC operated a horse farm and equestrian center whose business activities included maintaining, training and boarding horses, and had insurance coverage with Assurant Inc. unit Miami-based American Bankers Insurance Co., according to Monday’s ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in American Bankers Insurance Co. of Florida v. Robert Shockley Jr.

In November 2016, Ashley Ratay, an SFC employee, transported horses, equipment and an SFC golf cart from the farm to Barrington Hills Riding Center in Barrington Hills, Illinois, which is about 15 miles from SCF’s property, according to the ruling.

At some point, Mr. Shockley was a passenger in the golf cart. While he was in the passenger seat, Ms. Ratay used the golf cart to chase a horse.

She quickly drove the cart off the mowed path and onto a grassy field, where the cart hit uneven ground, which caused Mr. Shockley to fly out of the vehicle and land on the ground. Ms. Ratay then ran over his leg.

Mr. Shockley filed suit over the accident. The U.S. District Court in Chicago held American Bankers had no duty to defend or indemnify in SFC in the underlying lawsuit.

A three-judge appeals court panel overturned the lower court and held the insurer had a duty to indemnify the farm. The complaint alleges “the golf cart was being used for business purposes. This allegation is sufficient to trigger the supplemental motorized vehicle coverage,” said the ruling, which held that while ambiguous, the center’s coverage should be considered a commercial general liability policy, rather than a farm policy. The panel reversed the lower court’s ruling on this issue and remanded the case for further proceedings.

The panel refuses to discuss the merits of the question of indemnification, stating it is premature at this point, and remanded the issue for dismissal.

Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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