In a case out of Ohio, the Sixth Circuit recently held that the underwriters of two policies through Lloyd’s of London are not liable for a $2.2 million judgment awarded after a plaintiff was injured on a hunting trip. The case, Russcher v. Outdoor Underwriters, Inc., et al., involved a plaintiff who fell from a faulty ladder and broke his back while trying to climb into a tree stand.
The defendant and business owner operated two businesses simultaneously. The first business, Ohio Whitetail Adventures, existed as a “hunting outfitter,” which arranges and directly leads hunting expeditions for paying customers. The second business, Mark & Tommy Hunt Club, was only a “hunt club,” which merely provides land on which club members may hunt without guidance. In other words, a hunting outfitter operates as a commercial hunting business with direct personal involvement in the hunt, while a hunt club merely provides land on which club members can hunt privately.
Prior to the incident, the defendant sought land for use by his businesses, so he approached the Scioto Land Company and secured a license for his operations. The license between the business owner and Scioto specifically forbade commercial hunting operations—including the defendant’s business as a hunting outfitter—but it allowed him to operate the hunt club with coverage under Scioto’s $1 million insurance policy with Lloyd’s of London. That policy covered hunt clubs, but it did not extend to hunting outfitters or other commercial operations. Specifically, the Scioto policy covered “occurrences arising out of the activities and operations of the hunt club and its members.”
Next, the defendant began negotiations with a second landowner called Earthtouch. In anticipation of the deal, he secured a separate $1 million insurance policy, also with Lloyd’s of London, to cover his operations on Earthtouch land. The deal with Earthtouch fell through, but the second Lloyd’s policy remained in effect. Like the Scioto policy, the Earthtouch policy covered hunt clubs, but not commercial hunting operations.
Later that year, the underlying plaintiff suffered his injury on land owned by Scioto and licensed for use by the defendant. The plaintiff had signed up for the trip through the Ohio Whitetail Adventures website, and he further testified that the services provided by the defendant were those of a hunting outfitter rather than a hunt club. At trial, the defendant admitted liability, and a judgment for $2.2 million was entered against him.
In a subsequent action the plaintiff then sued Lloyd’s of London as a judgment creditor, seeking to recover the proceeds of the insurance policies that the business owner and Scioto had purchased. However, the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio sided with Lloyd’s, reasoning that the Scioto policy was inapplicable because the business owner was operating as a hunting outfitter while the insurance policy only covered hunt clubs. Further, the plaintiff was not a “member” of the club, as required by the policy language, so coverage was unavailable. Similarly, the Earthtouch policy offered no coverage because the accident did not occur on Earthtouch lands.
The plaintiff appealed, but the Sixth Circuit again sided with Lloyd’s. Although one judge dissented and sought to remand for further factual discovery, the majority concluded that Lloyd’s did not owe coverage to the business owner as a matter of law. As such, the claim was dismissed.
In this matter, the expectations of the policies’ underwriters were clearly memorialized in the terms and conditions of the policies at issue. This placed the insurers in a strong position to defend against a coverage action for a claim which fell outside the scope of the policies’ coverage. By clearly and specifically stating exactly who and what a policy covers, an insurer will be in a much better position to defend against any coverage actions that may arise.