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Accidental shooting at hunt club not covered by insurance


Scottsdale Insurance Co. is not obligated to indemnify a hunt club member who accidentally shot someone under terms of the club’s commercial general liability policy, an appeals court ruled.

While shooting at a deer from land leased by Northumberland Hunt Club, Timothy B. Johnson, a member of the club, unintentionally shot and injured Danny Ray Marks Jr., who was traveling on Route 642 adjacent to the land in Richmond County, Virginia, in January 2013, according to Monday’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in Danny Ray Marks Jr. and Timothy B. Johnson v. Scottsdale Insurance Co.

Mr. Marks filed suit against Mr. Johnson in Virginia state court in December 2013. According to the complaint, Mr. Johnson, who had extensive firearm training and was familiar with the location, took a position about 75 yards from the highway, even though he knew or should have known his gun could shot further than 75 yards.

When Mr. Johnson shot in the direction of the highway, one of the pellets from his gun struck Mr. Marks in the head, according to the complaint.

In January 2014, Mr. Marks also filed suit against Scottsdale, Arizona-based Scottsdale Insurance, seeking a declaration it had a duty to indemnify Mr. Johnson.

Scottsdale had the case removed to federal court and filed a counterclaim seeking a declaration it had no duty to defend or indemnify Mr. Johnson.

Scottsdale had issued a commercial general liability policy to the hunt club that included an endorsement that provided coverage to hunt club members, “but only with respect to their liability for your activities or activities they perform on your behalf.”

A magistrate of the U.S. District Court in Richmond held Scottsdale was not obligated under the policy to defend or indemnify Mr. Johnson, and a three-judge panel of the appeals court unanimously agreed.

“The clause covering club members ‘with respect to (member) liability for (the Club’s) activities’ unambiguously restricts coverage to situations involving a member’s alleged vicarious liability for the activities of the club as an entity,” said the ruling.

“In his brief, Marks argues that the policy covers this suit against Johnson because the shooting occurred ‘during’ a hunt club activity. But this is not what the policy says, and we cannot add words that are not there,” said the ruling.

“The complaint in the Marks suit does not allege any facts that, if proved, would render Scottsdale liable as to Johnson under the policy as we have construed it,” said the appeals court, in dismissing the litigation.

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