Does your homeowner’s insurance policy include coverage for libel or slander? We all make inappropriate comments and write negative reviews online from time to time. But what if you are sued for something you say or write? In a recent case out of Caddo Parish, Louisiana a dentist learned that while your policy may extend coverage for negligent acts, the insurance company may not be so willing to come to your defense for intentional acts.
In this case, the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry (“Board”) revoked Dr. Ryan Haygood’s dental license. On November 8, 2010, after an investigation and disciplinary proceedings, the Board found that Dr. Haygood violated the Dental Practice Act by over-diagnosing patients. Dr. Haygood appealed all the way to the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal which vacated and remanded the case. Dr. Haygood then filed a lawsuit for damages against the Board, Dr. Herman O. Blackwood, III and others. Dr. Haygood specifically alleged that Dr. Blackwood intentionally presented false claims that Dr. Blackwood knew to be untrue. Moreover, Dr. Haygood alleged that Dr. Blackwood conspired with other members of the Board to bring the disciplinary proceedings against Dr. Haygood without good cause for the purpose of causing him to lose his license. Dr. Haygood contended that Dr. Blackwood used his position in the community to essentially force the other Board members to go along with his plan to destroy Dr. Haygood’s career.
Upon notification of the lawsuit, Dr. Blackwood contacted his insurance company, Encompass Insurance Company of America (“Encompass”), seeking defense and indemnity through his homeowner’s insurance policy. However, Encompass declined coverage based upon a provision in the insurance policy which specifically provided that intentional acts of libel or slander are not covered. Encompass filed a motion for summary judgment on the issue of coverage. The Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo agreed that the policy did not cover the claims against Dr. Blackwood, therefore, Encompass had no duty to defend the lawsuit. Dr. Blackwood appealed to the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal.