(USA Herald) – An appeals court in New Jersey has ruled that Evanston Insurance must cover claims by a custodian who was injured after falling 20 feet from an elevator while vacuuming. The court’s decision reversed a trial court’s earlier order that granted summary judgment in favor of Evanston Insurance in a declaratory action it initiated against its policyholder, Western Environmental Solutions. Evanston had sought a court order finding that it didn’t have to indemnify the company from claims by a custodian who was injured while vacuuming an elevator at a health care facility on October 23, 2018.
The issue arose when the custodian, Michael Henry, fell 20 feet while vacuuming the floor of an elevator that was parked on the second floor. Henry’s fall caused the elevator to go up to the third floor, while the vacuum cord remained plugged into an outlet on the second floor. The cord got stuck through the second floor elevator doors, prompting Henry to contact security for help. Other Western Environmental Solutions staff came to help, one of whom used an elevator key to manually open the elevator doors. Once the doors opened, Henry reached into the open shaft to grab the cord but plummeted 20 feet before landing on the building’s basement below.
Henry subsequently filed a lawsuit against Western Environmental and other entities for damages, seeking indemnification from Evanston Insurance. Evanston, however, countered that the claim stemming from Henry’s injuries fell within the policy exclusion regarding elevators. Evanston subsequently filed a declaratory action against Western Environmental, seeking a court order finding that it owed no duty to the company regarding Henry’s case.
Evanston’s policy excluded claims arising from all “operations,” “services,” or “work” performed on elevators. Evanston contended that the custodian’s injuries fell within the policy exclusion regarding all “operations,” “services” or “work” performed on elevators. However, the New Jersey appellate judges disagreed and found that the policy exclusion enveloped only claims for bodily injuries resulting from work performed by subcontractors who regularly inspect and maintain the building’s elevators.
The appellate judges also highlighted how Evanston’s actions demonstrated bad faith conduct by attempting to evade paying on the company’s claim. Evanston had added an exclusion that precluded claims arising from “[a]ll operations, services or work performed on elevators,” but the judges found that this exclusion only applied to claims of bodily injuries arising from the “operations, services or work performed” by a subcontractor who regularly inspects and maintains the building’s elevators.
In summary, the appeals court found that Evanston Insurance must indemnify Western Environmental Solutions for the claim arising from Michael Henry’s injuries. The ruling highlights the importance of carefully interpreting policy language and considering extrinsic evidence that illuminates the parties’ intentions. Samuel Lopez, a legal news contributor for USA Herald, believes that the case serves as a reminder to insurance companies that they should not engage in bad faith conduct and that courts will not hesitate to hold them accountable for their actions.