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Story of our times: cops sued after death of innocent victim; cops get insurance but victim's family gets nothing

The family of Carrie Seils sued the Fraternal Order of Police after a drunk from their beer tent went home and shot his girlfriend and her kids.  The police argued that they should have dramshop coverage under a policy they bought from Auto Owners, but Auto Owners claimed that the "business exclusion" should apply to preclude coverage.  The trial judge refused to grant summary disposition to Auto Owners on that basis, but it did grant summary disposition to the cops, holding that being dead drunk didn't contribute to the murderer's violent rampage.  Auto Owners appealed and the FOP also filed a claim of appeal, apparently.

The Court agreed with the Fraternal Order that it was entitled to coverage for the event for which it bought coverage.  It ruled that simply holding a fundraiser did not put it "in the business" of furnishing alcohol, and therefore Auto Owners' policy exclusion did not apply.  Previous appellate courts had split on this issue when it was raised by ordinary insureds:  early cases held that the business pursuit exception did not apply to voluntary or non-profit activities.  More recent decisions by more activist, insurance-favoring judges had suggested that engagement in any activity that can constitute a business would bring the exclusion from coverage into play.

The evidence summarized by the Court confirmed that the shooter was engaged in a drinking "binge" all day and "visibly intoxicated" by the time he was served in the cops' "Hoedown" beer tent.  He "became increasingly disruptive and aggressive from his increasing intoxication, and precipitated several 'near violent confrontations' with festival attendees."  His companions forced him to leave before he could precipitate a "brawl" and get himself arrested.  When he got to the girlfriend's home, he shot her and her two kids.  Their father sued him.

Despite a wealth of literature documenting the likelihood that intoxicated people are more likely to become violent and prior precedents holding liquor sellers responsible for serving visibly intoxicated assault perpetrators responsible for the resulting injuries, this Court held that it was not "foreseeable" that the visibly intoxicated drunk would shoot someone in a domestic dispute--and therefore, the dramshop claim against the police was dismissed because the victims could not establish "causation."  The Court ruled that reasonable jurors could not reach the conclusion that serving a drunk made this event more likely to occur.  The judges were Mark Boonstra, Jane Markey and Kirsten Frank Kelly--perhaps the insurance industry's best friend in Michigan's judiciary.


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