COA 2010 Minutes for August 13, 2010 (Nos. 765-785)

COA 2010 Minutes for August 13,
2010 (Nos. 765-785)

  • Above link to minutes is full text of minutes with link to full
    of each decision.
  • Link to AOC Page with current minutes and archived minutes links
  • Total number of decisions:  21
  • Published Decisions:  3 (770; 781)
  • Tort, Civil, Insurance, Workers Compensation: 
    • 770. Insurance. Homeowners exclusion for business pursuits.
    • 781. Torts. Dog statute and liability of owner.


770. Insurance.  Homeowners. Application of business pursuits exclusion relative to dog mauling on homebased day care centers premises.

COMBS, JUDGE: This case involves a dispute as to coverage under a homeowner’s insurance policy. Sarah Holzknecht, as mother and next friend of Meghan Holzknecht, appeals from a summary judgment entered by the Hardin Circuit Court in favor of Kentucky Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company (Farm Bureau). The trial court held that the policy was unambiguous in excluding coverage for injury arising out of an insured’s “business pursuit.” The court concluded that the exclusion applied to bar coverage under the circumstances of this case, a result challenged by Holzknecht on appeal. In the alternative, Holzknecht contends that the exclusion clause is subject to the policy’s severability provision. After our review of counsels’ arguments and the pertinent law, we affirm.

Sarah Holzknecht filed a complaint against the Mays and their homeowners’ insurance carrier, Kentucky Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company.    Holzknecht alleged that the Mays were liable for their daughter’s injuries when a dog kept at their home-based childcare center mauled her. Holzknecht asserted that the Mays failed to exercise ordinary care for the safety of her child. Additionally, she argued that they were liable under the provisions of KRS 258.235(4), which provides that the keeper of a dog shall be responsible for the damage that it causes. Holzknecht alleged that since Meghan was under two years of age at the time of the attack, she was incapable of comparative negligence as a matter of law. Farm Bureau defended the action under a reservation of rights.

It is undisputed that a home day care business was being operated from the insured premises but that the Mays had informed Farm Bureau that there would be no business pursuits conducted on the premises. Because they had had previous experience with securing a home day care coverage endorsement, the Mays were aware that their homeowner’s policy lacked such an endorsement to secure added coverage for their business.

It is true that the Mays’ liability did arise from their statutory duty as keepers of a dog. However, the policy expressly provides that the business pursuits exclusion is not limited to injuries resulting from an act or omission “involving a service or duty rendered, promised, owed, or implied to be provided because of the nature of the business(.)” Instead, the policy exclusion is much more broadly drafted to encompass injuries “arising out of or in connection with a business engaged in by an insured.” We agree with the trial court’s observation as follows:

It should not be discounted that Holzknecht would not have been on this property and therefore not bitten by the dog were it not for the conduct of the day care business on the property. It is the increased risk associated with conducting such a business, including the presence of a number of children that calls for a specific rider or endorsement to provide appropriate commercial coverage.

NOTE:  This decision arose from a dog owned by the insured which mauled a child at the insured's day care business.  The insured contended that the dog was not related to the day care  business of the homeowner and thus should be covered.  KFBM contended the child would not have been on the homeowner's premises 'but for' the day care business. In holding the business pursuits exclusion applicable, it should also be noted that the following published decision addressing liability by the homeowner  under the 'dog bite' statute of KRS 258.235.(4) was applied in the 'companion' case.

781. Torts.  Dog bite statute and 'strict liability'.

COMBS, JUDGE: Sherri May and John David May appeal from a partial summary judgment and a subsequent trial order and judgment of the Hardin Circuit Court in favor of Sarah Holzknecht, as mother and next friend of Meghan Holzknecht. The Mays contend that the trial court erred by concluding that they were strictly liable under the provisions of Kentucky Revised Statutes[s](KRS) 258.235(4), the dog-bite statute, by failing to direct a verdict in favor of John David May at trial, and by permitting the jury to award damages for future pain and suffering. After our review, we affirm.

KRS 258.235(4) provides that any dog owner (and every person who keeps or harbors the dog) “whose dog is found to have caused damage to a person . . . shall be responsible for that damage.”2    The trial court did not interpret the provisions of KRS 258.235 to impose strict liability upon the keepers of dogs under all circumstances. In fact, the court specifically rejected this notion. However, from the undisputed facts of this case, the trial court concluded that the Mays, and the Mays alone, were liable for the damages caused by the dog that they kept. Again, neither Meghan, the victim, nor any intervening third party was at fault to arguably exculpate the Mays. Carmichal, 251 S.W.3d at 327.

None of the factors that might have absolved or limited the Mays’ liability is involved in this case. There is no dispute that the Mays harbored the dog and that they knew or reasonably expected that the dog would have direct access to the children in their home, including Meghan Holzknecht. They had told Meghan’s mother that the dog would be kept outside – contrary to actual practice. Under the circumstances, they violated their statutory duty to prevent the child from being mauled by the dog. Evidence of the dog’s temperament is irrelevant, and the child was not comparatively negligent; again, she was legally incapable of negligence in light of her tender years. See Lehman v. Patterson, 298 Ky. 360, 182 S.W.2d 897 (1944) (a child under seven years of age is not chargeable with contributory negligence). No third party and no fortuitous circumstance existed to implicate any aspect of comparative negligence.
This case involves application of the statute to undisputed facts. Under these facts, the Mays were liable as the dog’s keepers for Meghan’s injuries as a matter of law, and the only question that remained was the extent of her damages.

Mays contend that John David May was entitled to a directed verdict since he did not operate the child care business, made no decisions with respect to Sherri’s care of the children, and was not even at home when the dog attacked Meghan. We disagree.
The Mays’ argument wholly disregards the existence of KRS 258.235(4). As we have concluded, under the circumstances of this case, the Mays were liable as the dog’s keepers for Meghan’s injuries as a matter of law. Since the trial court granted Holzknecht’s motion for partial summary judgment, no evidence to prove John David’s negligence was introduced at trial, and none was necessary. John David’s liability does not arise from his activities at the home on the day that Meghan was mauled. Instead, under the undisputed facts of this case, he is liable by virtue of his status as keeper of the dog. John David fed, watered, and otherwise cared for the dog. As an owner of the home, he could have assured that the dog be kept outside or even removed from the premises. He knew or reasonably expected that the dog would likely have direct access to the children kept at his house, including Meghan. John
David violated his statutory duty to prevent the child from being mauled by the dog, and he cannot claim the relief he seeks.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are inappropriate, offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.