Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Oberlin Gets Schooled

As you may have seen, Oberlin College (a private liberal arts school in northeast Ohio) was recently successfully sued for trying very hard to put a local bakery out of business:

"A jury has awarded Gibson’s Bakery and its owners $11 million in compensatory damages against Oberlin College, for libel, intentional interference with business, and intentional infliction of emotional distress."

So how did this come about? Well, a couple years ago some yutes ... er ... underage Oberlin students tried to buy adult beverages, and when they failed to produce proper ID, decided to just help themselves. Even though they were arrested and eventually pled guilty, the college bureauweenies decided that this was obviously racially motivated by the shop's owners, and proceeded to act accordingly:

By passing out fliers accusing the business of racism, and urging customers to take their business elsewhere (the flyers helpfully included suggestions as to alternate merchants, aka competitors). In fact, at least one administrator was actively handing out these flyers.

The store sued the college, and has won a judgment of $11 million; yesterday saw the start of a hearing for an additional 22 million in punitive damages.

Okay, that's very interesting, Henry, but what the heck does it have to do with insurance?

I'm so glad you asked.

Turns out, at least one of the school's insurance carriers is likely to deny coverage:

"[I]t appears that the insurer, Lexington Insurance Company, is likely to disclaim coverage for the intentional torts which gave rise to the verdict."

Lexington had issued a commercial liability umbrella policy, which (as is typical of these plans), "does not provide coverage for “bodily injury” or “property damage” intentionally caused by defendants."

Think of it like this:

As we've pointed put before, one's homeowner’s policy is unlikely to cover the shooting of someone, even if that shooting was entirely lawful. It's that whole "intentional act" issue. And, as our guru of P&C Bill M points out, it doesn’t get more "intentional" than having your vice president and dean of students deliberately undermining a local establishment while calling its owners racist.

Bill also pointed out that coverage for the (expected) punitive damages may be in doubt, as well, since these are generally excluded.

R'unh r'oh.

Bill and I were also curious about the underlying coverage, which was not through Lexington, but by the "College Risk Retention Group, Inc. (“CRRG”) and an Educator’s Liability policy issued by United Educators (“UE”)."

Turns out, CRRG is "a privately held company in Burlington, VT and is a Single Location business."

How enlightening.

And what about UE?

Well, they provide "liability insurance and risk management services to more than 1,600 members representing schools, colleges, and universities throughout the United States."

No word yet on whether that includes intentionally sabotaging a local business.
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