Steven Meyerowitz Steven Meyerowitz

This story is reprinted with permission from FC&S Legal, the industry’s only comprehensive digital resource designed for insurance coverage law professionals. Visit the website to subscribe.

A federal district court in Georgia has ruled that a firearms exclusion in a commercial general liability insurance policy was ambiguous and did not bar coverage of a wrongful death action against the insured.

The Case

Carol Slocumb filed a wrongful death action against Snappy Slappy LLC, d/b/a Jus One More, alleging that her son had been shot and killed by a fellow business invitee at Jus One More. Ms. Slocumb contended that Jus One More’s negligent security practices were the proximate cause of her son’s death, and she sought damages relating to pain and suffering, burial expenses, and the value of her son’s life.

Jus One More notified Hudson Specialty Insurance Company, the insurer that had issued it a commercial general liability insurance policy, of Ms. Slocumb’s lawsuit.

Hudson responded that the policy barred coverage for Ms. Slocumb’s lawsuit based on, among other things, its firearms exclusion.

Jus One More disputed Hudson’s interpretation, and Hudson filed an action seeking a declaratory judgment that it was not obligated to defend or indemnify Jus One More from Ms. Slocumb’s suit because it involved the use of a firearm.

Hudson moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that losses associated with the use of a firearm were not covered by its policy.

The Hudson Policy

The Hudson policy provided that it did not apply to: “’bodily injury’ . . . arising out of the manufacture, importation, sales, distribution, gunsmithing, ownership, maintenance or use of firearms or weapons.”

The District Court’s Decision

The district court denied Hudson’s motion.

In its decision, the district court rejected Hudson’s interpretation of the firearms exclusion, finding that the exclusion was not “clear and unambiguous” because it did not limit or specify to whom it applied.

The district court explained that, under one reasonable interpretation, the exclusion could be read to mean that only the insured’s use of “firearms” was included. Under an “equally reasonable interpretation,” the district court continued, the exclusion could be read to deny coverage for “bodily injury” resulting from any use of “firearms,” including by a third party.

Because the exclusion was ambiguous, the district court continued, it had to be construed against Hudson and in favor of coverage. Accordingly, it concluded, the exclusion did not bar coverage.

The case is Hudson Specialty Ins. Co. v. Snappy Slappy LLC, No. 5:18-cv-00104-TES (M.D. Ga. Aug. 30, 2018). Attorneys Involved Include: For Hudson Specialty Insurance Company, Plaintiff: Christopher B. Freeman, Lead Attorney, Atlanta, Ga; Amanda D Proctor, One Atlantic Center, Atlanta, Ga. For Snappy Slappy Llc, Doing Business As, Jus One More, Defendant: Brittany E Bennett, Lead Attorney, Macon, Ga.

Steven A. Meyerowitz is the director of FC&S Legal, the editor-in-chief of the Insurance Coverage Law Report, and the founder and president of Meyerowitz Communications Inc.