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Insurer Benefits from New Jersey Appellate Division’s Reading of Assault and Battery Exclusion (NJ)

September 4, 2020

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <a href="https://njcourts.gov/attorneys/assets/opinions/appellate/published/a2330-17.pdf?c=sGJ"><em>Pickett v. Moore’s Lounge</em></a>, the Appellate Division had to interpret an assault and battery exclusion set forth in a tavern’s CGL insurance policy. A patron of Moore’s had shot and killed Roger Pickett while at the tavern after a verbal fight. The Estate of Pickett filed a seven-count complaint against the tavern, including claims of wrongful death, a violation of a liquor statute, negligent management of employees, negligent hiring, negligent training and negligent retention of tavern employees who allegedly caused the incident.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The insurer denied coverage under the assault and battery exclusion. The tavern then settled plaintiff’s claim but sought indemnity from its insurer.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Assault and Battery exclusion provided a justification for the insurer to deny coverage because the injuries sustained by Pickett arose out of any act of assault or battery committed by any person, including any act or omission in connection with the prevention or suppression of such assault or battery.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Appellate Division held that the exclusion was unambiguous and would, therefore, be enforced. The exclusion plainly encompassed negligent acts or omissions that failed to prevent or suppress the assault or battery. This embraced the estate’s general allegation that the tavern negligently failed to exercise reasonable care to assure the tavern was a safe place.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">This case illustrates the importance of closely scrutinizing the wording of an assault and battery exclusion in a policy, as these exclusions are not one size fits all.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Mike Noblett for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please contact <a href="mailto:%20chayes@wcmlaw.com">Colleen Hayes</a>.</p>

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