Insurer denies there is coverage on incident

Published 9:40 am Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lawsuit focuses on injury when hangar door hit victim

CHESAPEAKE — The Houston-based company that insures the aviation company that operates the Lawrence County Airport says no matter the outcome of an upcoming civil lawsuit its policy provides no coverage.

“We believe there is no coverage,” John Farnan of Weston Hurd law firm in Cleveland, said. The law firm represents U.S. Specialty, the company that insures Attitude Aviation.

The lawsuit, filed in July 2010, by Ashley Washburn, focuses on injuries Washburn received when a hangar door at the airport became detached, airborne and hit the woman.

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The incident happened on July 20, 2008, as Washburn was putting away tents and other equipment that had been used that day during parachuting activities that she had participated in earlier.

According to the suit “the defendants, Lawrence County Board of Commissioners and Attitude Aviation … negligently and carelessly owned, maintained, controlled, supervised and regulated Lawrence County Airport such that they permitted negligent installation, construction and replacement of the hangar on the premises which created dangerous conditions of the public property at the airport.

“The airport was in a dangerous condition that created substantial risk of serious bodily injury and death when the airport was used in a reasonable matter by the plaintiff and other patrons of the airport.”

The suit alleges the commissioners and Attitude Aviation should have known of what it called dangerous conditions at the airport and should have remedied them or posted warnings about them. That suit seeks damages for pain and suffering, bodily injury, permanent injury, emotional distress, lost wages and past medical expenses and demands a jury trial.

The commissioners response to the complaint filed by their attorneys Joseph W. Pappalardo and Timothy Roth of Cleveland, denies the allegations in the complaint.

The response also states “any damage or injury which plaintiff may have suffered as alleged in her complaint was directly and proximately caused by plaintiff’s own contributory and/or comparative negligence … was directly and proximately caused or contributed to by the negligence of persons other than this defendant.”

The commission contends that Attitude Aviation, which has a lease agreement to act as the fixed base operator of the airport, has a legal obligation to defend and indemnify the commissioners in Washburn’s lawsuit. Attitude Aviation disputes that.

Commissioners also sought U.S. Specialty to indemnify it. Now that company seeks a declaration that it has no obligation to do so. It claims the commissioners do not fit the definition of “insured” under the insurance company’s policy.

“My client contends that the contract in issue is not an insured contract under its policy and moreover that even it was there are two potential exclusions that should apply to preclude coverage,” Farnan said. “One deals with the parachuting activity and anything related to parachuting activity and the other deals with any conduct of, preparation for or participating in any contest or exhibition.”

According to U.S. Specialty’s suit, Washburn says she has had medical expenses of more than $362,000.

The commissioners’ insurance company is XL Insurance, which does not dispute it provides coverage for them, according to Pappalardo.

“The commissioners deny any fault and negligence and so does Atttitude Aviation,” Pappalardo said.

Commission president Les Boggs said he is was “somewhat familiar with the case but I do not have all the details. It happened prior to my coming on commission. I do know it is in the hands of the attorneys and the courts.”

A jury trial is set for September 2012 in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.