Concealment of Prior Act of Sexual Abuse Excluded

Never Lie or Conceal Potential Claims From Insurer

Post 4823

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Plaintiff CMGK, LLC, doing business as Massage Envy, appealed from an order granting  summary-judgment to defendant Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London Subscribing to Policy Number ME10XXXX, and dismissing with prejudice plaintiff’s claims. Plaintiff sought coverage under a Sexual Acts Liability Endorsement of a claims-made-and-reported policy issued by Lloyd’s to plaintiff. The court found plaintiff was not entitled to coverage and granted the motion.

In CMGK, LLC d/b/a Massage Envy v. Certain Underwriters At Lloyd’s, London Subscribing To Policy Number ME10XXXX, No. A-1836-22, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (June 13, 2024) the appeal was considered based on the facts established by the motions.

FACTS

CMGK operated a Massage Envy Spa franchise located in Mays Landing. Emad Gus Khalifa was the sole member of plaintiff and was familiar with its operations. In 2013, plaintiff hired April Pippin as a general manager to assist Khalifa with the day-to-day management of the facility. Pippin and Khalifa performed management functions for plaintiff.

The Application for Insurance

Khalifa executed on behalf of plaintiff an application for the policy at issue. “This Claims Made policy applies only to those claims arising from covered incidents which occur on or after the stated retroactive date. In addition, the claim must first be made and reported to the company during the policy period or applicable extended reporting period.” (Emphasis in the policy).

The Policy

Defendant issued its Specified Medical Professions Professional Liability Insurance Policy to plaintiff for the policy period March 9, 2018, to March 9, 2019, and subject to a Retroactive Date of March 9, 2014. The policy included a Sexual Acts Liability Endorsement.

The Sexual Acts Liability Endorsement. Prior to the effective date of the policy, the Insured represented that it had no knowledge of a Sexual Act or any fact, circumstance, situation or incident involving a Sexual Act which may result in a Claim under this policy.

In 2016, plaintiff hired Steffon Davis as a massage therapist. According to plaintiff’s client M.N., Davis sexually assaulted her during a massage he performed on her on September 23, 2017. Two days later, M.N. reported the alleged assault to Pippin. On September 26, 2017, M.N. went to the Township of Hamilton police station and told a police officer about the incident. According to the officer, M.N. told her “[Davis had] placed his finger between her vagina lips and cupped her breast during a massage.”

M.N. eventually sued.  On September 5, 2018, plaintiff tendered the suit to defendant for coverage who refused to defend or indemnify the Plaintiff who sued Lloyd’s claiming Lloyd’s had breached the policy and seeking a judgment declaring M.N.’s claims fell within the coverage provided by Lloyd’s.

Finding the language of the prior-knowledge clause to be “clear and unambiguous,” the trial court rejected plaintiff’s attempt to interpret it in a manner where an honest belief in the futility of a claim negates actual knowledge of allegations of wrongdoing. The court found the police decision not to file criminal charges does not support a reasonable belief that M.N. would not file a civil lawsuit.

Khalifa’s assumption or hope, purportedly based on the officer’s decision not to file a criminal complaint or M.N.’s decision not to file a civil complaint sooner, that M.N. wouldn’t file a claim is not enough to defeat summary judgment. Adopting plaintiff’s interpretation of the policy language would have the effect of rendering meaningless the prior-knowledge clause. To avoid the application of the clause, an insured could simply assert it did not believe – in the face of all evidence to the contrary – a claim might be filed.

The reasonableness of excluding claims based on prior conduct that the insured could reasonably have foreseen might serve as the basis for a future claim was apparent to the appellate court as it would be to anyone involved in the business of insurance. The Appellate Division, therefore, affirmed the order granting defendant’s summary-judgment motion.

ZALMA OPINION

An application for insurance is a request to an insurer to make an offer of insurance. The insurer relies on the good faith of the proposed insured to accurately respond to all the inquires including any information available to the insured at the time the application is presented, of any acts that could result in a claim. Such an act, sexual abuse of a customer by a massage therapist, known to the insured but not yet grown into an actual suit must be disclosed to allow the insurer to make a well reasoned decision to offer to insure the proposed insured.

(c) 2024 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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