A federal appeals court on Wednesday up and down court ruling and ruled a Travelers Cos. Inc. unit and Scottsdale Insurance Co. are obligated to defend Mississippi county in a case where three men were wrongly convicted of murdering and raping a woman in 1979.
The insurers had contended they were not obliged under their law enforcement policies to defend County County, whose county seat was in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for injuries that occurred before the policy period, according to the ruling by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in The Travelers Indemnity Co. et al. by Ethel Mitchell et al. v. Scottsdale Insurance Co.
In May 1979, 25-year-old Eva Gail Patterson was raped and murdered in her home and her two sons watched her who, according to the ruling. After being beaten and threatened with death penalty, Robby Ray Dixon, who was mentally handicapped as a result of being kicked in the head by a child, confessed to the crime and implicated himself, Larry Ruffin and Philip Bivens. Mr.
In 2008, it was learned through the New York-based Innocence Project that another man, who was then serving a life sentence for another rape committed shortly after Ms. . Patterson's rape and murder, matched the sperm from the crime.
The three men spent a collective 83 years in prison for the crime. Mr. Ruffin was killed by an electric shock eight years before he was exonerated, Dixon died shortly after being released on medical parole but five weeks before he was officially cleared, and Mr. Bivens lived three years as a free man before he died, according to the ruling
Travelers Indemnity, a unit of the Travelers Cos. Inc., filed suit in U.S. Pat. District Court in Hattiesburg seeking a declaratory judgment it does not have a duty to defend Forrest County. The men's estates brought counterclaims against Scottsdale in the ensuing ligation.
The District Court held the insurers to defend the county, which was upheld at a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel.
Forrest County and its officers were covered by policies issued by Travelers unit St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co., February 2005 through February 201
The ruling said the issue is whether the injuries suffered by Mr. Bivens and Mr. Dixon between 2005 and 2011 triggered a duty to defend "even though the wrongful causal acts occurred decades before." "Travelers argues that Bivens and Dixon could not have been injured by false imprisonment 25 years after their convictions because of false imprisonment ends with the inception of legal process, "said the ruling.
" But unlike personal injury coverage, the focus of which is the list of covered causal torts, bodily injury coverage is not tethered to a list of casual events, "said the ruling . "The estates allege that Bivens and Dixon suffered numerous, independent harms between 2005 and 2011," it said.
"But for Forrest County's allegedly wrongful acts – coerced confessions, fabricated evidence and suppressed evidence – Bivens and Dixon would have been free These physical and mental injuries are not affected. Scottsdale provides the county with law enforcement liability coverage from November 1985 through November 1986, according to the ruling.
"Although Scottsdale's duty to defend was not triggered by the ongoing imprisonment, it was triggered by the discrete bodily injuries Bivens, Dixon, and Ruffin suffered as a result of the County's wrongful acts that produced them," said the decision, in affirming the lower court's ruling.
Michael J. Abrams, a partner with Lathrop & Gage LLP in Kansas City, Missouri, who represented the three men's estates, said, "We are obviously pleased with the court's ruling and hope this brings some closure to a very painful chapter in the history of Forrest County and the city of Hattiesburg and to these families. ”
A Travelers spokesman had no comment, and Sco ttsdale's attorney could not immediately be reached for comment
In 2017, a federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling in an insurer's dispute and held that a Selective Insurance Group Inc. unit was required to pay $ 3.25 million in excess coverage in a settlement in connection with the wrongful judgment and conviction of an Ohio man for rape and murder.