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U.S. Specialty Insurance Company v. James Courtney Law Office

June 19, 2003

U.S. SPECIALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLANT,
v.
JAMES COURTNEY LAW OFFICE, P.A., ET AL., RESPONDENTS DALE SWAPINSKI AS TRUSTEE FOR THE HEIRS AND NEXT OF KIN OF JILL N. TOWNSEND-SWAPINSKI, DECEDENT, RESPONDENT.



Office of Appellate Courts

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

The plain language of Minnesota's aviation insurance liability statute, Minn. Stat. § 60A.081, subd. 2 (2002), which mandates coverage for passengers and nonpassengers, requires coverage for passengers who are also employees.

Affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blatz, Chief Justice

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

Appellant U.S. Specialty Insurance Company brought a declaratory judgment action to determine whether exclusions in a standard aviation liability insurance policy issued to respondents James Courtney and James Courtney III Law Office, P.A. violated state law. The district court found that the policy exclusions, which excluded coverage for claims made by employees for work-related injuries, were violative of Minn. Stat. § 60A.081, subd. 2 (2002). Minnesota Statutes section 60A.081, subd. 2 states that:

[N]o policy of insurance issued or delivered in this state covering an aircraft equipped with passenger seats and covering liability hazards shall be issued excluding coverage for injury to or death of passengers or nonpassengers * * *.

Upon appeal, a divided panel of the court of appeals affirmed the district court's decision. We granted further review, and we now affirm the court of appeals.

James Courtney, a Duluth, Minnesota lawyer and sole shareholder of James Courtney III Law Office, P.A., was counsel of record for a federal administrative hearing to be held in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Having decided to fly to the Green Bay hearing, Courtney and an employee from his law office, Jill N. Townsend-Swapinski, departed Bong Airport in Superior, Wisconsin, on August 4, 1998 at 8:00 a.m. They flew in a Cessna aircraft owned by the law office and piloted by Courtney.

While en route to Green Bay, both Courtney and Townsend-Swapinski were fatally injured when the aircraft crashed. The surviving dependents of both Courtney and Townsend-Swapinski were eligible for, and received, workers' compensation benefits.

Townsend-Swapinski's husband, Dale Swapinski (Swapinski), as trustee for the heirs and next of kin of Townsend-Swapinski, began a wrongful death action against Courtney's estate, alleging both negligence and gross negligence. Aircraft liability insurance coverage was provided by U.S. Specialty under a policy that listed both the law office and Courtney as named insureds. Courtney's estate tendered defense to U.S. Specialty and requested indemnification. Relying on two exclusions set forth in the policy, U.S. Specialty denied coverage and began a declaratory action.

At the district court, U.S. Specialty alleged that the following policy provisions, in relevant part, operated to exclude coverage for employees for injuries that ...


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