Off Target – Hunting Club Insurance Doesn’t Cover Member Involved in Accidental Shooting (VA)

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Marks v. Scottsdale Co. (Virginia)

This case involves a creative attempt by a tortfeasor to find insurance coverage.  The plaintiff Ray Marks, Jr. (“Marks) was a nonmember the defendant hunting club.  He had been injured when he was accidentally shot by a hunting club member (plaintiff Timothy B. Johnson [“Johnson”]) as the Marks was driving by the club’s property.  Both Marks and Johnson sued the club’s general liability insurer after the insurer denied insurance coverage to Johnson for the incident.  The insurer filed a motion for summary judgment contending that the club’s policy did not cover club members for their personal recreational activities, and the trial court granted the motion.  Plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision.  The general liability policy provided coverage for “those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of ‘bodily injury’ or ‘property damage’ to which this insurance applies,” and to defend against any suit seeking such damages.” The hunting club was the sole named insured under the policy.  The policy did have an endorsement that provided that the definition of “insured” was “amended to include as an insured any of your members, but only with respect to their liability for your activities or activities they perform on your behalf.”  The policy defined “you” and “your” as “the Named Insured shown in the Declarations,” which was the the hunting club.

Plaintiffs argued that Johnson should have been covered by the policy because he was hunting at the club and hunting was “one of the Club’s activities” under the policy.  Alternatively, the plaintiffs argued that the policy language was ambiguous on the point and should be construed in their favor.  However, the Court disagreed, noting that “Members are covered with respect to their liability for  the Club’s own corporate activities, not with respect to anything they may do during or in connection with Club activities.”  The endorsement was modified to cover club members, “but only with respect to [member] liability for [the Club’s] activities or activities [members] perform on [the Club’s] behalf.”  Therefore, the Court concluded that the complaint did not allege any facts that, if proven, would render the insurer liable to Johnson.

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