Weapons exclusion clause puts the onus on bar owner after stabbing

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Weapons exclusion clause puts the onus on bar owner after stabbing

A New Orleans bar attempted and failed to recoup its losses through a general liability policy after it was sued by two stabbing victims.

Following the stabbing of two patrons, a New Orleans bar attempted and failed to recoup its losses through a general liability policy.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that an insurance company doesn’t have to protect a bar against personal injury claims by patrons who were stabbed there as the establishment’s policy from the Houston Specialty Insurance Co. contained an exclusion for injuries caused by firearms or other weapons.

The policy defined weapons as “instruments of an offensive or defensive nature and include but are not limited to batons, bow or crossbow, arrows, knives, mace, stun guns, tasers or swords,” according to a per curiam opinion from a panel that included circuit Judges Leslie Southwick, Andrew Oldham and Cory Wilson.
“In November 2014, Shakeva Soniat and Serena Tribbit were having drinks at a bar on Bourbon Street in New Orleans called Funky 544. Ronesha Kelly, who at age 19 was too young to be served alcohol, had been drinking there. She began arguing with the two women, then stabbed them both,” the judges wrote. “In January 2015, Soniat and Tribbit sued Funky 544 in state district court for Orleans Parish, Louisiana, claiming that their injuries resulted from Funky 544’s negligence. The bar owner had a commercial general liability insurance policy with Houston Specialty Insurance Company. In July 2015, five months after Funky 544 notified it of the suit, Houston Specialty declined coverage.”

Neither the bar nor the insurance company answered the complaint. In February 2016, the state court awarded the two women $635,000; $480,000 for pain and suffering and $55,000 for medical expenses, the judges wrote.

“In March 2020, Funky 544 sued Houston Specialty in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, claiming a breach of the insurer’s contractual and statutory duties. Houston Specialty moved for summary judgment on those claims, arguing an exclusion in the policy applied to Soniat and Tribbit’s claims. This exclusion applies to injuries caused by the use of firearms or other weapons,” the judges said. They affirmed the district court’s ruling.

The district court did describe claims of negligence regarding failure to require identification and prevent underage drinking. But the ruling fact was the exclusion for injuries caused by weapons. If the women had been injured in some other way unrelated to the knife, the insurance company would have had a duty to defend. But not in this case, the judges ruled. So if a chandelier had fallen on them while they were being stabbed, that could have been a different story.

Interestingly, the court had another similar case to guide them. The judges said they found “helpful” the same ruling in Foquet v. Daiquiris & Creams of Mandeville, 2010.

“Judgment for the insurer was affirmed based on an exclusion in the policy for ‘bodily injury,’ … ‘arising out of or resulting from’ the use of a weapon,” the judges said. “Because the only injuries were related to the stabbing, the claims were based on plainly excluded conduct.”

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