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Insurance Law

Jets And Sharks And Insurance Coverage: Judicial Writing At Its Finest

Forget whether you can tell a book by its cover (a lot of times you really can I think), I have long maintained that you can very often tell a coverage case by its opening paragraph. A recent one from the New Jersey Appellate Division has as good as a lede as you’ll ever see. And it only got better from there. Canon v. Palisades Insurance Company (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Mar. 25, 2015), [enhanced version available to subscribers], started out with this gem:

“This case involves a street fight between two groups of combatants, some of whom were employed as telemarketers with two local companies. Not surprisingly, the challenge to fight, the acceptance of that challenge, and negotiations over the combat site were all done telephonically.”

Yes, as hard to believe as it sounds, that is precisely what the case is about. But the court didn’t stop there. It took the opportunity to make the events leading up to the street brawl resemble lawyers on opposite sides trying to schedule a mediation:

“While waiting for Green, Soto received a call from someone identified only as Dom, who challenged Hyslop’s group to a fight. Hyslop’s group accepted the challenge but could not agree where to stage the combat. Dom’s group proposed fighting near Borough Hall, but Hyslop’s group rejected that location as too crowded and proposed three different locations, the Lakeview Apartments, Fielek Park, and the Skytop Gardens Complex. All three sites were rejected by Dom’s group.”

The two groups then continued phone discussions and a location agreeable to both sides was chosen. However, the fight didn’t take place as scheduled. One group arrived in a car with the occupants carrying baseball bats. The other group, expecting a traditional fist fight, was unarmed, and hurriedly left. However, the parties were willing to continue settlement efforts: “The two cars drove to the Skytop Gardens Complex while their occupants made phone calls trying to reschedule the fight.”

To make a long story short, someone was eventually shot in the head. He filed suit against some of the individuals on the other side. A default judgment was entered in the amount of $65,000. Seeking to satisfy the judgment, the victim then filed an action against the auto insurer for one of the assailant’s parents. The substantive coverage issues in the case are not significant enough to warrant discussion here – “expected or intended” and “use of an auto.”

Sadly, the opinion does not mention what caused these two groups to want to kill each other. Maybe each one tele-marketed the other.

[The opinion in Canon v. Palisades Insurance Company is per curiam, so I can’t give kudos to any particular author -- only the authors collectively: Judges Simonelli, Guadagno and Leone.]

Coverage Opinions is a bi-weekly (or more frequently) electronic newsletter reporting or providing commentary on just-issued decisions from courts nationally addressing insurance coverage disputes. Coverage Opinions focuses on decisions that concern numerous issues under commercial general liability and professional liability insurance policies. For more information visit

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of his firm or its clients. The information contained herein shall not be considered legal advice. You are advised to consult with an attorney concerning how any of the issues addressed herein may apply to your own situation. Coverage Opinions is gluten free but may contain peanut products.

    Randy Maniloff is Counsel at White and Williams, LLP in Philadelphia. He previously served as a firm Partner for seven years and transitioned to a Counsel position to pursue certain writing projects including Coverage Opinions . Nonetheless he still maintains a full-time practice at the firm. Randy concentrates his practice in the representation of insurers in coverage disputes over primary and excess obligations under a host of policies, including commercial general liability and various professional liability policies, such as public official’s, law enforcement, educator’s, media, computer technology, architects and engineers, lawyers, real estate agents, community associations, environmental contractors, Indian tribes and several others. Randy has significant experience in coverage for environmental damage and toxic torts, liquor liability and construction defect, including additional insured and contractual indemnity issues. Randy is co-author of “General Liability Insurance Coverage - Key Issues In Every State” (Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition, 2012). For the past twelve years Randy has published a year-end article that addresses the ten most significant insurance coverage decisions of the year completed.

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