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Travelers unit not obligated to defend landscape architect firm in boy’s death

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A Travelers Cos. Inc. unit is not obligated to defend or indemnify a landscape architect firm in a wrongful death action filed against it in connection with an eleven-year-old boy’s death because of professional services exclusions in its coverage, says a federal appeals court, in upholding a lower court ruling.

Jose A. Scott was killed in March 2013 at an intersection in the Viczaya residential community in Miramar, Florida, that was designed and constructed by the Hollywood, Florida-based firm, according to court papers in Witkin Design Group Inc. v. Travelers Property Casualty Company of America.

The boy’s estate filed suit against Witkin, among others, charging it with negligence as the landscape engineer of the intersection where he was killed.

Witkin had two insurance policies with Hartford Connecticut-based Travelers Property Casualty, a commercial general liablity policy and an umbrella commercial excess liability insurance policy, according to Thursday’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

Both provided coverage for products-completed operations claims, but also contained professional services exclusions for bodily injury or property damage “arising out of the rendering of or failure to render any professional services.”

Travelers refused to defend or indemnify Witkin in the case. The company filed suit in U.S. District Court in Miami, which dismissed the case.

A three-judge appeals court panel unanimously upheld the lower court’s ruling. “The insurance policies are not ambiguous,” it said. Both contain “nearly identical language in their respective professional services exclusions,” which define professional services to mean “any service requiring specialized skill or training,” the ruling said.

“The conduct of Witkin in designing and constructing the intersection falls squarely within the professional services exclusion,” said the decision, in affirming the lower court ruling.