SDV Insights

Massachusetts District Court Narrowly Interprets Cosby's Abuse Exclusion

The Massachusetts District Court found that Bill Cosby’s homeowner’s liability policy covered the costs of defense for defamation claims related to allegations of sexual assault, even though the policy included a broad sexual abuse exclusion. The policy provided coverage for “damages [Cosby] is legally obligated to pay for personal injury or property damage caused by an occurrence …”. But the policy also excluded coverage for “personal injury arising out of any actual, alleged, or threatened by any person: (a) sexual molestation, misconduct or harassment; … or (c) sexual, physical, or mental abuse.”

The court focused on the idea that the defamation claims were “sufficiently independent” from the related allegations of abuse and assault. While the defamation claims arose out of these allegations, the court found that “the language [of the abuse exclusion] [was] at least ambiguous under these circumstances.” As a result of the ambiguity, Cosby was entitled to the most favorable interpretation of the policy language, thus entitled to defense coverage.

This case is important for policyholders because it illustrates that courts can and should exercise restraint when evaluating coverage under difficult and troubling circumstances.

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