Court sides with judge in beer slip-and-fall case

By Justin Anderson | Jun 22, 2009

CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Supreme Court has sided with a Kanawha judge in a case that involved a man slipping on some spilled beer at a concert.

In an unsigned opinion filed June 18, the court said an insurance company did not have to defend or indemnify members of the Lakewood Swim Club, who were operating a beverage concession stand during a concert at the Charleston Civic Center.

Michael and Misty Blankenship filed a lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court in 2006 against the city of Charleston and Boston Culinary group, doing business as Distinctive Gourmet.

The lawsuit faulted the city and the the business for allowing beer to remain on the floor near the concession stand, on which Michael Blankenship slipped and was injured. Boston Culinary was managing the concession stand, but members of the swim club were actually manning the stand, according to court documents.

Boston Culinary filed a third party complaint against Lakewood, citing a contract between the swim club and the business that would hold the business harmless if an injury occurred because of the operation of the concession stand.

Lakewood filed a claim with its insurer, Evanston Insurance Company. But the insurance company refused to offer either a defense or coverage over the slip and fall, arguing that its policy with Lakewood only covered incidents that occurred on the premises of the swim club.

Lakewood disagreed and filed a motion for summary judgment in Kanawha Circuit Court. But Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky, in a Dec. 11, 2007, order, gave summary judgement to the insurance company.

Stucky's order said the "clear, plain and unambiguous language" of the policy says Lakewood's only covered for incidents that occur at the swim club.

The Supreme Court agreed, citing the court's well-established holding that language in an insurance policy "should be given its plain, ordinary meaning."

"Applying this standard to the facts at hand, we conclude, as did the lower court, that selling beer at a concession stand at a concert open to the public in a location other than the private swim club premises is an activity beyond the ordinary meaning or purpose of a project defined as a private swim club," the order said.

Supreme Court case number: 34399

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