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Monday, October 14, 2019

Maine Supreme Court rules to uphold judgment in dog bite suit

By Olivia Olsen | Aug 24, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine (Legal Newsline) – The Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a Penobscot County Superior Court’s judgment in an appeal involving an insurance claim and a dog bite victim.

The July 25 ruling affirms the judgment stating that appellant Richardie Kelley pursued damages from North East Insurance Company (not named in the original suit) that were not covered under the policy. 

In February 2009, Tim McCann, who co-owned a dog with Theresa Synder (who held an insurance policy for her vehicle with North East) drove to meet Kelley in a vehicle not covered by the policy. McCann brought the dog to the meeting, and the animal bit the face of Kelley, who then sued the couple for damages. The suit against Snyder and McCann ended in a $100,000 judgment.

Kelley pursued the judgment through Snyder’s insurance company in December 2015. During the subsequent proceedings, a trial court determined that the claim did not fall under the definition of auto-accident and therefore was not covered under Snyder’s policy. Kelley appealed.

As stated in the review section of the Supreme Court judgment, the courts interpreted the policy language “from the perspective of an average person untrained in either the law or the insurance field.” In doing so, it determined that the use of the term auto-accident was broad and undefined. However, the burden of proof fell onto Kelley to prove that the bite fell under the terminology. 

Kelley stated that the incident “arose out of the use of the vehicle” and therefore fell under the definition. The court, using only auto-accident in the most basic and common definition, stated otherwise. 

It also determined that “accident” on its own meant “an event that takes place without one’s forethought or expectation” and therefore an auto-accident was not the proper categorization for the incident in question. 

As a result, the Supreme Court determined that Kelley “failed to carry her burden."

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