I’m Not Lion: The Coverage Case Involving Cats That You Must Read

I’m Not Lion: The Coverage Case Involving Cats That You Must Read

I really dislike cats. It has got to be one of the worst musicals ever. That it came from Lloyd Webber just serves as evidence that even the greatest are entitled to an off day now and then. That it is one of the most successful Broadway and West End musicals ever just serves as evidence that P.T. Barnum was right. Thankfully “Memories” was performed in Act I so I could leave before Act II.

As for cats and coverage, there are very few cases involving this combination – as in, almost none. Dogs on the other hand – you can’t even count them all. There are no doubt lots of reasons for this disparity owing to the many differences between dogs and cats.

The last issue of Coverage Opinions looked at some coverage cases involving dogs. In particular, claims involving show dogs that bite. In the amazing coincidence category, just as that issue of CO was being put together, the California Court of Appeal issued an opinion addressing liability coverage for an incident involving cats. And not just any opinion, but one with wacky facts that makes for very interesting reading. You’ll see. While Coverage Opinions is not bound by any sort of equal time requirements, like television networks, it only seemed fair to follow up last issue’s dog article with one involving cats.

Abrahams v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. B244642 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 6, 2014) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], goes like this. Leslie Abrahams and Hal Gosling, husband and wife, undertook to protect the feral cat population at California State University, Long Beach by maintaining feeding stations around the campus. Scott Miller lived adjacent to CSULB and frequently walked, jogged and rode his bicycle through the campus with his dog and young children. Allegedly, one day in 2005, Abrahams stopped Miller on campus and demanded that he not walk his dog. Miller ignored the demand and four years later Abrahams confronted Miller and his son as they walked their dog on the campus. She berated Miller, told him she represented CSULB and he was not welcome on the campus with his dog. Abrahams threatened that “the campus cat club was going to ‘take care of him.’”

Let me repeat that line here because I don’t tire of hearing it: The campus cat club is going to take care of you.

Wait, it gets better. The court put it this way. “Over the next year, on multiple occasions, Abrahams and Gosling drove their car toward Miller and his sons in a threatening manner as they walked or biked with their dog on the CSULB campus. Abrahams and Gosling repeatedly followed and stared down Miller and his sons and videotaped Miller and his family at their home and at CSULB. Abrahams also charged up to Miller in a post office parking lot, berated Miller’s wife and son as they exited a local Sears store, and contacted Miller’s son’s daycare provider to report that Miller was emotionally unstable, a danger to the community, and a threat to the daycare provider’s cats.” Someone was getting into the catnip.

Miller sued the cat duo alleging causes of action for invasion of privacy, stalking, intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault. The couple sought coverage from Allstate, their homeowner’s insurer. Allstate disclaimed coverage and litigation ensued. The trial court granted Allstate’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that Abrahams and Gosling’s alleged conduct was deliberate and no accident that triggered Allstate’s duty to defend. The case went to the Court of Appeal, where the cat lovers coughed up a fur ball.

The couple argued that they did not intend to threaten, frighten or intimidate Miller. They described their motivations as benign and that they lacked knowledge that Miller was emotionally hypersensitive. They also asserted that others would have perceived their behavior to be innocuous. However, the court held that their peaceable motivation did not transform their actions into accidental conduct: “[A]ppellants essentially argue their mistaken belief about Miller’s receptiveness to their deliberate behavior rendered their conduct accidental because they did not anticipate or intend its result. They are incorrect. Miller alleged appellants confronted, berated and threatened him on multiple occasions; drove their car toward him in a threatening manner several times; followed, stared at and videotaped him; and made a negative report about him to his son’s daycare provider. Appellants might not have anticipated this conduct would injure Miller, but their miscalculation did not transform the conduct from deliberate to accidental.”

The campus cat club is going to take care of you.

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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