Insurer Wins ‘Criminally Caused’ Case With N.H. Boater

May 17, 2004

A Meredith, N.H. man convicted of negligent homicide last year in a fatal boating crash at Lake Winnipesaukee has lost a battle with an insurance company.

Daniel Littlefield was sentenced to over two years in prison and is free pending his appeal. He was convicted of running his 36-foot yacht over John Hartman’s boat, killing him, in August 2002.

The yacht was covered for damages by an insurance policy by Acadia Insurance Co. The company said its coverage is barred, however, because it excludes criminal acts. The policy excludes coverage for “any loss, damage or liability willfully, intentionally or criminally caused or incurred by an insured person.”

Littlefield responded that Acadia is obliged to compensate him for any damages awarded. He said that the phrase “criminally caused” is ambiguous. Because the exclusion appears in the same sentence with exclusions for “willfully” and “intentionally” caused damages, he argued, one would construe the exclusion to similarly apply only to willful or intentional crimes.

U.S. District Judge Paul Barbadoro found in favor of the insurance company last week.. He said there’s nothing ambiguous about the policy language: It excludes coverage for what happened.

Emile Bussiere Jr., who represents Hartman’s widow, Karen Hartman, said this was a situation where “both Mrs. Hartman and Mr. Littlefield are looking for the court to enforce an insurance contract that would benefit Mr. Littlefield — and, of course, conversely benefit Mrs. Hartman.”

According to court papers, the boat and its equipment were insured for up to $110,000. The policy also included indemnity for up to $300,000.

Mrs. Hartman has an attachment on Littlefield’s assets and has filed a $4 million wrongful death lawsuit in Hillsborough County Superior Court. It was that lawsuit that prompted Littlefield to submit a claim to Acadia — and drove Mrs. Hartman to back him.

A homeowner’s policy is already paying for Littlefield’s defense, said William Pandolf, a Manchester attorney who represented Acadia. But the Hartmans did not think that was enough to cover potential damages, he said.

Gordon Rehnborg Jr., a lawyer who represents Littlefield, said he is considering an appeal at the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Bussiere said if Rehnborg doesn’t file one, he will.

In appealing the conviction, Littlefield’s lawyers said that state witnesses offered contradictory testimony and that the judge should have refused to allow some testimony to be considered by the jury. They also disputed some of the judge’s instructions to the jury.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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