High court weighs in on whether insurance company should pay legal defense of company in sexual assault case

By Dawn Geske | Sep 5, 2016

LOS ANGELES – An appeal has been filed in the 9th Circuit Court in a case where a construction company is looking for its insurance company to pay for its legal defense in a sexual assault case involving an employee and a minor.

Liberty Surplus Insurance sued construction company Ledesma and Meyer, as well as its principals, in 2012 stating that it is not obligated to cover the costs of its legal representation in the sexual assault case that was brought against them by a 13-year-old girl and her parents.

Ledesma and Meyer was sued by the 13-year-old girl and her parents when employee Darold Hecht, a brother-in-law to the owner Joseph Ledesma, allegedly sexually assaulted the girl. The girl and her parents are suing for negligence and negligent hiring as Hecht is registered sex offender and was convicted of sexually assaulting two other girls.

Hecht was convicted in 2009 of molesting the girl, according to the San Bernardino Sun.

Hecht was hired to supervise a project at Cesar E. Chavez Middle School where he purportedly began flirting with the 13-year-old girl and picking her up at the bus stop where he allegedly sexually assaulted her. The girl and her parents also sued the San Bernardino City School District, who hired the contractor to work on the school grounds despite Hecht being a registered sex offender.

In the insurance case, U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner ruled in favor of the Liberty Surplus, which had Ledesma and Meyer file an appeal in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court has raised the question to the Supreme Court regarding whether the incident in question was a matter of an accident or an occurrence as outline by the language of the Ledesma and Meyer’s commercial general liability policy. If ruled as an occurrence, Liberty Surplus may be obligated to cover Ledesma and Meyer’s legal costs.

Regarding whether an insurance company would be liable for these types of claims, William L. Porter, founder and president at Porter Law, told the Northern California Record that it depends on the terms of the policy.

“Not all policies are alike," he said. "A standard commercial general liability policy may not cover claims that an employee sexually harassed a third party. There are policies available that may provide for coverage. One option might be an employment practices liability or EPL policy. These policies might cover such claims, but are also limited in that while defense costs like paying for an attorney to defend the case might be covered, it is unlikely that punitive damages would be covered due to public policy considerations.”

The appeal is being overseen by 9th Circuit Court Judges Mary Murguia and Paul Watford as well as 3rd Circuit Court Judge Thomas Vanaskie, who is sitting by designation.

Hecht is reportedly imprisoned at the Valley State Prison in Chowchilla.

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9th Circuit Appellate Court, San Francisco California Supreme Court

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