Case Study: The Long Road

The client calls. He was injured when he was riding in a jet boat on Lake Winnipesaukee with his son who was driving the boat. Client was seated facing backwards in the boat. His son thought it would be humorous to jump a wave with the boat at high speed and see the look on Dad’s face when he went up into the air. Unfortunately, when Dad came down, he landed in the bottom of the boat on the end of his spine, his sacrum. The shock of the impact snapped Dad’s head severely so that the prongs on his spine actually dug into his neck.

Dad suffered nerve damage. The boat was insured.

 

CLAIM AT THE INSURANCE

We submitted a claim on Dad’s behalf. The insurance company denied coverage on the ground that there is an exclusion in the policy that says they will not cover injuries to family members.

We pointed out that there is a statute in New Hampshire that says that no liability policy can be written which excludes coverage for family members. If there is a provision in the policy, that provision is void and there has to be coverage.

The company responded that the New Hampshire law did not apply, because the 16-foot jet boat, which was being operated on Lake Winnipesaukee, is covered by an ocean marine policy. The jet boat is the same as the Queen Mary, or the Exxon Valdez and subject only to federal admiralty law.

SUPERIOR COURT OF BELKNAP COUNTY

We filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment in the Superior Court of Belknap County to have the Court declare that there was coverage. The insurance company removed the case to federal court asserting federal jurisdiction and diversity of citizenship, because the company was based in Maine and the incident happened in New Hampshire.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

We brought in associate counsel who was familiar with federal procedure. We won in the United States District Court of New Hampshire. At the federal court level, the insurance company attorneys were assisted before the First Circuit by the National Maritime Insurance Association and the Maritime Commerce Association. They both filed briefs on the side of the insurance company saying that Maritime Commerce would be covered if they lost the case.

FIRST CIRCUIT COURT

The company appealed the decision to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. We went to federal court. We briefed the case and argued it before the First Circuit Court. The First Circuit Court certified a question to the New Hampshire Supreme Court concerning the nature of the insurance policy. The question was, “Is this a liability policy under New Hampshire law?”

NEW HAMPSHIRE SUPREME COURT

We argued the case before the New Hampshire Supreme Court. We won again.

BELKNAP COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT TRIAL

The company still refused to pay the damages. The matter went to trial before a jury in the Belknap County Superior Court. After two days of trial, the case settled for six figures.

THE LONG ROAD …

The case took 4-1/2 years to get to trial and placed before a jury. We believe the insurance company was banking on two things:  first, that the client would simply get worn down and secondly, that the client would eventually give up and accept a small settlement.

We believe their thought was that they could make new law highly favorable to the insurance industry by trying to take advantage of a small city, solo practitioner in New Hampshire.

This is actually one of the joys of practicing out of a small city. Attorneys from the large, metropolitan areas meet their match in knowledgable and experienced lawyers at The Coolidge Law Firm.