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Insurer not obligated to defend stable in jockey injury

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A Selective Insurance Group unit has no obligation to defend a racing stable charged with improperly disposing the body of a horse connected to a jockey’s injury, says a federal appeals court, in overturning a lower court ruling.

James Rivera was a professional jockey riding a two-year old filly, Flyfly Fly Delilah, during a workout in 2008 when the horse suddenly collapsed, taking Rivera to the ground and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The case is Selective Insurance Co. of the Southeast v. William P. White Racing Stables Inc.; James Rivera, et al.

Mr. Rivera believed the horse was not fit to be exercised or raced due to an injury that had been concealed by steroids and other medications, according to the ruling.

Ensuing litigation included a claim of spoliation of evidence by Mr. Rivera, who charged that the Davie, Florida-based stable failed to preserve the horse’s remains after the accident so they could be tested for performance-enhancing drugs, thus impairing Mr. Rivera’s ability to prove his claims against the other defendants in his litigation.

The stable’s insurer, Selective Insurance Company of the Southeast, a unit of Branchville, New Jersey-based Selective Insurance Group, said it had no duty to defend White Racing Stables against Mr. Rivera’s lawsuit because it did not fall within the terms of its liability policy’s coverage for damages arising from “bodily injury from accident.”

The insurer filed suit in U.S. District Court in Miami, seeking a declaratory judgment it owed no duty to defend the stable.

The court ruled in the stable’s favor, entering a partial declaratory judgment requiring it to defend White Racing Stables against Mr. Rivera’s lawsuit.

On appeal, a three-judge appeals court panel unanimously reversed the lower court’s ruling.

“The Florida Supreme Court has held that a liability policy applying to ‘bodily injury by accident’ does not provide coverage for claims against an insured for breaching a duty to preserve evidence,” said the ruling, in holding the insurer had no duty to defend White Racing Stables.