Sixth Circuit: Insurance broker may be held liable for Cleveland Indians' damages

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Aug 26, 2013

CINCINNATI (Legal Newsline) -- A federal appeals court ruled last week that an insurance broker may be held liable for damages suffered by the Cleveland Indians in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the baseball team.

At the center of the case is the collapse of an inflatable slide at a kids fun day event, held before an Indians baseball game in June 2010.

Douglas Johnson and David Brown attended the game and were looking at an exhibit outside the ballpark's Kids Zone when the slide collapsed on them. Johnson died nine days later.

Soon after, Brown and Johnson's estate filed a lawsuit against the Indians and other parties in an Ohio state court for punitive and compensatory damages.

An insurance dispute arose out of the lawsuit, with broker CSI Insurance Group admitting that it mistakenly failed to obtain the insurance that would've covered the accident.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit concluded that CSI could not be liable in negligence. The Indians appealed.

The question before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit was whether the insurance broker could be held liable for the baseball team's damages.

In a 2-1 ruling Friday, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment.

"CSI knew that it was procuring insurance for the Indians as well as for National Pastime, it knew exactly what dates and events the insurance was for, it knew that the Indians had paid the premium and that CSI had issued a Certificate of Insurance to the Indians indicating that the policy was in effect," Senior Judge Gilbert S. Merritt wrote for the court. "CSI was well aware that the Indians could be harmed if the proper insurance was not procured.

"CSI also argues that foreseeability alone is not enough and that there must be some additional 'special relationship' that would make CSI liable to the Indians in this case. That special relationship certainly exists here."

Merritt said it is "undisputed" that CSI knew that the insurance was to cover the kids fun days events hosted by the Indians before baseball games.

"CSI sent a Certificate of Insurance directly to the Indians, listing them as an additional named insured," the judge noted in the court's 13-page ruling. "The Certificate of Insurance lists the dates of the 'Kids Fun Days' and says the 'Certificate Holder is added as Additional Insured with respect to our insured's [National Pastime Sports] negligence.' Immediately below that language, the Cleveland Indians Baseball Company is named as the 'Certificate Holder.'

"If indeed Michigan would require some additional 'special relationship' to impose tort liability on CSI, such a relationship surely can be demonstrated here."

Judge Eric L. Clay filed a dissent.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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