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Creative Pleading In PA Requires A Duty To Defend

September 30, 2022

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In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Siehl-v.-City-of-Johnstown-et-al..pdf">Siehl v. City of Johnstown, et al.</a>,</em> the plaintiff was convicted of murder and was incarcerated for twenty-five years. The plaintiff alleged that, during his period of incarceration, the defendant city and county withheld exculpatory evidence and produced false disclosure statements. After multiple hearings, the Court determined that the defendant officers were untruthful and hid exculpatory evidence. The plaintiff was thereafter free. The plaintiff therefore sought damages for wrongful imprisonment, loss of freedom, economic loss, and critically, exposure to physically harmful prison conditions (e.g. a bodily injury).

The defendant city and county thereafter added their insurance carrier to the action with a third-party complaint. The third-party defendant insurer issued an insurance policy to Cambria County, Pennsylvania. The policy in question included general liability coverage and law enforcement liability coverage that extended to cover damages because of “injury, sickness, disease, disability, shock, mental anguish, mental injury and humiliation” as well as false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and deprivation of constitutional rights.

The Eastern District began its analysis by citing the foundational pillars of insurance coverage law in Pennsylvania: the insurer's duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify and the duty to defend arises whenever an underlying complaint may potentially come within the insurance coverage.

The insurer argued that it owed no duty to defend the claims that were derivative of the initial malicious prosecution. The court disagreed. Concluding that the allegations in the lawsuit would, if true, be covered by the policy, the Eastern District concluded that “under the legally appropriate interpretation/evaluation of the applicable language at issue, [the insurer] owe[d] a duty to defend” partially because of the allegations in the complaint concerning a bodily injury caused by an occurrence.

Thanks to Jason Laicha for his contribution to this article.  Should you have any questions, contact <a href="mailto:mcare@wcmlaw.com">Matthew Care</a>.

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