Vt. Court Denies Claim of Slain Girl’s Father, Says Insurer Not Liable

April 2, 2012

The Vermont Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of a slain 12-year-old girl’s father who claimed the ex-wife of the man charged in her murder was negligent in his daughter’s death and that her insurance company should pay damages.

Last Friday’s unanimous ruling upheld a lower court decision rejecting the complaint filed by James Bennett.

Bennett’s daughter, Brooke Bennett of Braintree, was killed in June 2008. Her uncle, Michael Jacques, is charged with abducting, sexually assaulting and killing his niece after luring her to his Randolph home.

Bennett filed a lawsuit claiming that Denise Woodward, who was Brooke’s aunt and married to Jacques at the time, was responsible for Brooke’s death for not protecting her from Jacques. Bennett claimed that her insurance company, Co-operative Insurance Cos., should pay to defend her in a lawsuit and pay any damages that might be awarded.

The supreme court ruling affirmed a Superior Court judge’s decision last year that the insurance company was under no obligation to pay under the terms of the homeowner’s policy held by Woodward and Jacques.

Prosecutors allege that Jacques used a 14-year-old girl to lure Brooke to his home by getting her to believe she would be a guest at a pool party there. Once she was there, prosecutors say Jacques drugged, sexually assaulted and strangled her.

Her body was found in a shallow grave about a mile from Jacques’ house.

In his lawsuit, Bennett alleged that Woodward “breached her duty to protect Brooke from the risk of harm” posed by Jacques, and that she should have known her husband was a predator and posed a threat to Brooke.

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