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Travelers must pay $5.3 million in wrongful conviction lawsuit

Jail cell

Travelers Cos. Inc. units are obligated to pay $5.3 million to a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder even though their coverage was not in effect at the time of his arrest and conviction, a Missouri state appeals court ruled.

The Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City, Missouri, held in Tuesday’s ruling in Ryan Ferguson v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. et al. that the insurer was obligated to contribute to a settlement in the case because Mr. Ferguson sustained injuries as defined by the coverage during the almost ten years he was incarcerated.

In March 2004 Mr. Ferguson was arrested and charged with robbery and homicide for the 2001 death of a Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor, Kent Heitholt, according to the court ruling and newspaper reports.

He was convicted in October 2005 and incarcerated until his conviction was vacated in November 2013, after a state appeals court held the prosecutor’s office had withheld evidence from defense attorneys and that Mr. Ferguson had not received a fair trial, according to a news report.

The state elected not to retry Mr. Ferguson, and he was discharged from custody.

After leaving prison, Mr. Ferguson filed a civil lawsuit against five Columbia, Missouri, police officers involved in his case and the city of Columbia, which resulted in an $11 million settlement, according to the ruling.

Columbia and its officers were insured by law enforcement liability policies through St. Paul from Oct. 1, 2006, through Oct. 1, 2010, and by a similar policy through Travelers Indemnity Co. from Oct. 1, 2010, through Oct. 1, 2011, according to the ruling.

In 2018, a circuit court held the insurers should pay $5.3 million toward the settlement, which reflected $1 million for each of the five years Mr. Ferguson was incarcerated within the policy period, and $854,000 in attorneys’ fees, less a $500,00 self-insured retention.

On appeal, the insurers argued they should not be obligated to contribute to the settlement because Mr. Ferguson’s injury occurred before the policy period began.

The unanimous-three judge appeals court panel disagreed.

“The policy at issue before us defines ‘injury’ as ‘hurt, damage, or loss sustained’ supra,” the ruling stated.

“Ferguson testified that he did not have any physical injuries during his incarceration, but at a minimum, Ferguson sustained the loss of liberty, loss of time, and deprivation of society each day of his incarceration, and the district court divided the damages related to the year in which they were sustained.

“Therefore, we conclude that Ferguson met his burden to demonstrate the Insurers have a duty to indemnify Columbia for Ferguson’s personal injuries,” said the ruling, in affirming the lower court ruling.

Attorneys in the case could not be reached for comment.

In August, a federal court said an excess insurer was not obligated to provide coverage in connection with an attempted murder in a Florida hotel, in a case that hinged on the definition of sublimit. 



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