The Duty to Defend

A local family owned four properties in Massachusetts. Three homeowners' insurance policies insured three of the properties, but did not insure a fourth residential property. The policies insured family members against bodily injury claims, but each policy also contained an "uninsured location" (UL) exclusion disclaiming coverage for injuries "arising out of a premises" owned by an insured but not itself an "insured location." Misfortune occurred during the use of a portable fire pit at the fourth property and the injured parties sued one of the owners in state court.

The insurance company filed a separate action in federal court seeking a declaration that it was not obliged to defend the property owner because of the UL exclusion. Applying Massachusetts law, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the insurer indeed had a duty to defend the owner because the portable fire pit was not a "condition of the premises" and thus did not "arise out of" the premises as articulated in the UL exclusion provision. The court's decision reinforced the long-held and expansive principle that ambiguity in insurance contract provisions will be construed against the insurer.

Interpreting insurance contracts and the applicable law is no simple matter. If you need counsel in order to protect your rights under an insurance policy, contact the experienced lawyers at Harris & Associates, P.C.