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Federal court upholds denial of insurance claims after nightclub shootings

Lawsuits

By Sandra Lane | Jul 28, 2018

Legaruling

ORLANDO – A federal court has denied a security company’s petition for a new trial, but granted its motion to amend the trial court’s judgment.  

This lawsuit, heard in U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, focused on claims by the estates of Carlos Rodrigues and David Torres Jr., originally filed in state courts, after death benefits were denied by an insurance company.

Mt. Hawley Insurance Co. was sued because of refusal to pay claims arising from shootings at Que Rico Casa Del Mofongo. Tactic Security Enforcement provided security at the nightclub, employing Rodrigues and Torres.

Mt. Hawley Insurance Co. refused to pay the claims of the estates.  As stated in the court documents, under the terms of the insurance coverage, “The Policy provided coverage to Tactic for bodily injury and property damage, but excluded coverage for injuries arising out of any and all operations involving bars, taverns, lounges, gentlemen’s clubs and nightclubs.”

The jury returned a verdict declaring that Que Rico was indeed operating as a bar, tavern, or nightclub, making the claims not enforceable, according to court documents. 

The court opinion said that Tactic moved to amend the judgment entered in favor of Mt. Hawley and entered a motion for judgment as a matter of law, also requesting a new trial.

Judge Paul G. Byron of the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, ruled that Tactic’s motion for a new trial was denied.  However, he granted Tactic’s motion to amend judgment and/or motion for relief from judgment. 

“The Declaratory Judgment Order and Judgment shall be deemed replaced by the forthcoming Amended Declaratory Judgment Order and Amended Judgment,” he said. 

“The Court finds that Tactic identified a manifest error of law,” he said, “and that its suggested amendment is warranted for the reasons articulated in the court’s order granting Tactic’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.”  He also stated that the trial court incorrectly declared in the Declaratory Judgment Order and Judgment that Mt. Hawley prevailed on its claim seeking a declaratory judgment that it had no duty to defend Tactic.

”That declaration is incorrect,” the judge said. “Tactic prevailed on Mt. Hawley’s duty to defend claim and Mt. Hawley’s duty to defend ceased when the duty to indemnify issue was resolved after trial. Tactic’s motion to amend is therefore granted.”

In addition, Judge Byron said that during the trial, sufficient facts were presented to support the finding that Tactic’s operations involved the Que Rico establishment, and were not limited to the parking lot. 

He pointed out that John Martinez, a Tactic employee since 2008, testified that Tactic “coordinated with the security inside and contacted law enforcement on numerous occasions to deal with unruly patrons both inside and outside Que Rico and regularly escorted patrons from the Que Rico exit away from the establishment. 

“These facts amply sustain the Court’s finding that Tactic’s activities on the dates in question were not strictly confined to the parking lot, and instead involved the Que Rico establishment.”

In closing, Judge Byron ruled that “The Clerk of the Court is directed to tax costs for Mt. Hawley Insurance Company in the amount of $2,181.60.” 

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U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida Orlando Division