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The World Cup is in full swing. So that can mean only one thing – the entire planet coming together, with a shared purpose of cheering on their national soccer team, in a spirit of competition and good will. Well, yeah, but I was thinking more like it means that I ponder whether any coverage cases have centered around soccer. When I went in search of this answer I was expecting a low score. Obviously with the beautiful game never gaining a major toe-hold in this country – which is sad – it would make sense that there wouldn’t be too many coverage cases revolving around it. I was right. There weren’t many. The most popular cases involved coverage for automobile accidents that just so happened to take place en route to youth soccer games. As for real soccer-related cases, involving coverage disputes under general liability policies and the liability section of homeowner’s policies, which is which Coverage Opinions is all about, it was slim pickins. But I found a couple.
In Clermont Central Soccer Assoc. v. Cincinnati Insurance Company, 676 N.E.2d 1281 (Ohio Ct. Comm. Pleas. 1995), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], an Ohio trial court addressed coverage under the following circumstances. “Jeffrey Snider was acting as a referee for a tournament soccer match being held by plaintiff Clermont Central Soccer Association. During the course of the match, Snider attempted to avoid running into children who were running the wrong way [how cute], and fell, suffering injuries when he hit his head. As a result of the injuries sustained by Snider, Snider brought suit against plaintiff [Clermont Central Soccer Assoc.], alleging that plaintiff was negligent in sponsoring a soccer game on a field with unsafe conditions.”
Clermont Central Soccer Assoc. sought coverage under its policy issued by Cincinnati Insurance Company. Cincinnati disclaimed coverage on the basis of the following exclusion: “With respect to any operations shown in the schedule, this insurance does not apply to ‘bodily injury’ to any person while practicing for or participating in any sports or athletic contest or exhibition that you sponsor.”
The court held that the exclusion did not apply on the basis that a referee is not clearly excluded under the athletic participants clause. Calling the language contained in the exclusion “imprecise,” court explained its decision: “[T]he court finds that the athletic participants clause is ambiguous at best. Exclusions are to be interpreted in light of their limiting titles. The title ‘Athletic or Sports Participants’ used by CIC is ambiguous, inasmuch as ‘participant’ is susceptible of more than one meaning. One could reasonably believe that the term ‘participant’ is synonymous with the term ‘player’ or one could believe that the term ‘participant’ applies to anyone involved in any way with the sporting event.”
In Process Systems International, Inc. v. Continental Casualty Company, 678 N.E.2d 866 (Mass. Ct. App. 1997), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], a Massachusetts Appeals Court addressed coverage under the following circumstances. Process Systems was in the business of producing cryogenic tanks and heat exchangers. Despite this being its business, it manufactured goal posts to donate to the Timberlane Soccer League, which were installed in a Plaistow, New Hampshire school playing field. A child died from injuries sustained when one of the goal posts fell on him. A New Hampshire jury awarded damages of $925,000 against Process Systems, the league and the local school district.
Process Systems sought coverage under a commercial general liability and commercial umbrella policy issued by Continental. Continental asserted that no coverage was owed on account of an exclusion for bodily injury which is included within the Completed Operations Hazard or the Products Hazard.
Process Systems argued that the goal posts should not be considered its product because it did not trade or deal in goal posts. The court rejected this argument, noting that “it has been held that even a brief excursion into the stream of commerce will cause one to be classified as a manufacturer, seller, handler or distributor of goods or products regardless of how foreign this occasional venture may be to his normal activities.” (citation omitted). Further, the court stated that “[n]othing in the wording of the products hazard exclusion suggests that a product must be one within the regular course of business of an insured.” The court also rejected Process Systems’s argument that the goal posts should not be considered its product because they were donated and not sold.
The Massachusetts appeals court concluded that no coverage was owed to Process Systems on the basis that the underlying claim involved bodily injury included within the Completed Operations Hazard or the Products Hazard exclusion.
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 www.coverageopinions.info.
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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