Although falling from a horse is not among the sources of injury one would typically contemplate if he or she were asked to consider Atlanta-area personal injury litigation, the facts of a recent federal case, Brit UW Limited v. Hallister Property Development, LLC, are unlike those associated with most personal injury actions.
Brit is actually the second lawsuit filed regarding the incident at hand. The first case followed an accident at Goat Farm, a living and workspace community for artists located in Atlanta, where the plaintiff in the first suit, a resident on the property, was paralyzed after being thrown from a horse. The defendant in the original suit is a limited liability corporation that purchased the property in 2008. The corporation is composed of two members who hoped to eventually develop the land into large-scale residential and commercial space. However, at the time of the accident, the majority of the land was underdeveloped and served as a site for both animals and small residential studios and working spaces for artists. One of the two members of the corporation actively manages the property and agreed to have a friend store a horse on Goat Farm. On the day of the horse’s arrival, the property manager and the horse’s owner agreed to let the plaintiff sit on a horse and helped him mount the animal. Although the plaintiff did not expect to ride, the horse jolted after he was mounted and threw the plaintiff into a flagpole, leading to back injuries and paralysis. Following the accident, the plaintiff brought suit in Fulton County State Court, arguing various theories of premises liability and negligence that made the Goat Farm owners liable for his serious injuries. The defendant then requested defense and immunity from its insurance provider, the plaintiff in the second lawsuit. The insurance provider and the defendants reached an impasse in negotiations about obligations pursuant to the insurance agreement, and the insurance provider brought a declaratory action suit against both the defendant and the plaintiff in the original lawsuit in federal court to determine what rights existed under the insurance contract.
Following limited necessary discovery, the insurance provider moved for summary judgment, arguing that the injury was not covered by the terms of the contract, and, even if it was, the members of the corporation failed to provide reasonable notice as required by the insurance agreement. Under Georgia law, an insurance agreement is interpreted using the same rules that apply in standard contract interpretation. SawHorse, Inc. v. S. Guar. Ins. Co. of Georgia, 269 Ga. App. 493, 494-95 (2004). Accordingly, the parties to an insurance agreement are bound by the agreement’s plain and unambiguous terms, but ambiguities are construed against the insurance provider since it is the drafter of the contract. Id. at 494. With respect to this case, two issues needed to be resolved: whether the insurer had a duty to defend the insured in this action, and whether the insured gave timely notice of the action as required by the agreement.
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