AUGUSTA, Maine (Legal Newsline) - The Maine Supreme Court said in a ruling last week that an insurer had no duty to indemnify an owner of a company it insured after he assaulted another motorist in an act of road rage.
In September 2007, Michael A. Bryant, co-owner and an employee of Prime Cut Meat Market, was traveling from a campground with his son on Route 85 near Raymond.
The side of the truck, which Bryant owned and bought before being employed at Prime Cut, had decals that said "Prime Cut Meat Market" and "Meat Market."
Court records note that the company did not pay or reimburse Bryant for the decals on the truck, nor did it pay for the truck's loan payments, gas or maintenance.
While stopped at a traffic light on Route 85, Bryant exited his truck and approached the driver's side of Francis Latanowich's vehicle, which was stopped just ahead of Bryant's at an intersection.
Bryant then struck Latanowich repeatedly in the head and chest because he "wanted (him) to know" that his driving had put other drivers, including himself, at risk.
In Bryant's own words, he took "it upon (himself) to try to set (Latanowich) straight."
Latanowich and his wife, Donna, later sued Bryant, Prime Cut and their own automobile insurance carrier, Commerce Insurance Company, for, among other things, assault and battery, false imprisonment, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Prime Cut successfully moved for summary judgment, and the Latanowiches stipulated to a partial dismissal with Commerce.
The Latanowiches and Bryant eventually agreed to a settlement that included Bryant assigning all of his rights related to potential insurance coverage to the Latanowiches.
In July 2010, The Travelers Indemnity Company, which insured Prime Cut and its employees, filed a complaint against Bryant and the Latanowiches seeking a declaratory judgment that it had no duty to indemnify Bryant for claims arising from the altercation because Bryant was not an insured under its policy issued to Prime Cut for "purposes of that conduct."
A superior court entered summary judgment in favor of Travelers on its complaint.
Bryant and his wife appealed to the state's high court. They argue that the lower court erred in determining Travelers had no duty to indemnify Bryant.
The Court, in its March 22 opinion, affirmed the superior court's ruling.
"The court did not err in concluding, based on the plain language of the policy, that Bryant was not insured either as a partner or as an employee of Prime Cut when he exited his truck at a traffic light and assaulted Latanowich. Coverage for partners is provided 'only with respect to the conduct of your business,' and employees are covered only for 'acts within the scope of their employment... or while performing duties related to the conduct of your business,'" Chief Justice Leigh Ingalls Saufley wrote for the Court.
Because his assault of Latanowich was not "in respect to the conduct" of Prime Cut's business, Bryant was not insured as a partner, or employee, when he assaulted another motorist, the Court explained.
"Neither the assault nor Bryant's motive for it were related to the conduct of Prime Cut's business or within the scope of his employment with Prime Cut," Saufley wrote in the Court's seven-page opinion.
"An ordinary person would not think that the policy's language would cover his assault of another motorist, especially where the employee was off the clock and returning from a personal camping trip, and where the employee exited his vehicle in the middle of the road to 'set (another driver) straight,' notwithstanding that the employee's independently owned and maintained vehicle was marked with the name of his employer and that he was on his way to the employer's premises."
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.