Falling victim to a sexual assault is a nightmare that too many people in the Gulf Coast, and across America, are forced to fear. While most people think of such an incident in the realm of criminal charges, there are very real civil elements to such an event that are important. When a variety of individuals, or in the rare case businesses, are involved, civil liability exists that allows the victim to receive compensation for the various damages they suffered. However, hiring the proper attorney can be very important in such complex cases.
In the case of Piligra v. America’s Best Value Inn, Susana Piligra attended a nightclub located inside of the America’s Best Value Inn. There, Ms. Piligra consumed an excessive amount of alcohol. She eventually lost consciousness and was escorted by a nightclub employee to a hotel room. On the way to the hotel room, an unknown male offered to assist the nightclub employee and Ms. Piligra to the hotel room. Unfortunately, the hotel employee left Ms. Piligra in the care of the unknown male and, when Ms. Piligra’s friend went to check on her, she found the hotel room locked and the curtains closed. Her friend opened the door but the security chain was latched. When the friend moved the curtain, she did, however, see an unknown male climbing off of Ms. Piligra with his pants down. After Ms. Piligra was transported to a local hospital, it was determined that she was allegedly raped by the unknown male while she was unconscious.
In response to this incident, Ms. Piligra filed suit alleging that the owner of America’s Best Value Inn, Dhan Laxmi and their insurance company Evanston. In her suit she claimed that both parties negligently took her to a hotel room without her consent, failed to attend to her responsibly as required by an innkeeper or as one who assumed a duty of care and that she was left alone with an unknown male subjecting her to rape and other injuries. Upholding the lower court’s decision, the Court of Appeals refused to hold the insurance company, Evanston, responsible for any of Ms. Piligra’s injuries. Interpreting the insurance policy as it would any other contract, the court held that the policy exclusions found in the policy were unambiguous and prevented Ms. Piligra from recovering from the insurance company.
In its ruling, the court discussed the (1) assault and battery exclusion, (2) sexual abuse and/or molestation exclusion and (3) Restaurant, Bar, Tavern, Night Clubs, Fraternal and Social Clubs Endorsement. Under the assault and battery exclusion provision, Evanston would not be responsible for any injuries arising from any assault or battery occurring on the premises or those caused by the actions of Dhan Laxmi employees. The sexual abuse and/or molestation exclusion prevented Ms. Piligra from recovering from the Evanston because Louisiana courts have held that the term “sexual molestation” includes rape and the general definitions of “molest” implied some degree of unwanted touching. Finally, the court found the Restaurant, Bar, Tavern, Night Clubs, Fraternal and Social Clubs Endorsement clearly prohibiting recovery for injuries resulting from alcohol consumption.
Louisiana courts have consistently held that, with these unambiguous policy exclusions in place, insurance companies do not have to cover injuries arising from assault, battery and rape on its policy holder’s property. These provisions highlight the importance of consulting experienced attorneys to examine potential claims against insurers and review the policy provisions that limit coverage for ambiguity as well as any conflict with the law or public policy.