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Ainsworth v. Chandler

Supreme Court of Vermont

August 29, 2014

Faye Ainsworth
v.
Charles Chandler and Charles Chandler Electric Company; Charles Chandler
v.
Concord Group Insurance Company and Campbell & Boyd Insurance Services

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is subject to motion for reargument or formal revision before publication. See V.R.A.P. 40

On Appeal from Superior Court, Windham Unit, Civil Division. Katherine A. Hayes, J.

Faye Ainsworth, Plaintiff-Appellant (13-084), Pro se, Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Charles Chandler, Defendant-Appellee (13-084) and Plaintiff-Appellant (13-209), Pro se, Newfane.

Andrew C. Boxer and Robert D. Mabey of Ellis Boxer & Blake PLLC, Springfield, for Intervenor-Appellee (13-084) and Defendant-Appellee (13-209) Concord Group Insurance Co.

Present: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Skoglund and Robinson, JJ., and Eaton, Supr. J., Specially Assigned

OPINION

Page 906

Reiber, C.J.

[¶1]  These consolidated cases stem from alleged injuries suffered by plaintiff Faye Ainsworth while she was at defendant Charles Chandler's business, Chandler Electric. Plaintiff filed suit, claiming that she was injured when she tripped on a coil of wires that had been placed in the stairway. Defendant filed suit against his insurer, Concord Insurance Group (insurer), arguing that insurer had wrongfully and in bad faith failed to provide adequate coverage for the claim. Insurer filed a counterclaim seeking a declaration of noncoverage. The court granted summary judgment to defendant, concluding that plaintiff was a social guest of defendant at the time of her visit, that the duty of care defendant owed her was the lesser duty applicable to licensees under Vermont law, as contrasted with that owed to business invitees, and that defendant did not breach this duty. The trial court also granted summary judgment to insurer, on the basis that the underlying personal injury action had been dismissed and therefore no coverage was owed.

[¶2] On appeal, plaintiff and defendant both contest the court's order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant, and defendant contests the order granting summary judgment in favor of insurer.

Page 907

For the following reasons, we affirm with respect to defendant's motion to disqualify the trial judge, but reverse with respect to plaintiff's suit and reverse and remand for further proceedings with respect to defendant's claim against insurer and insurer's counterclaim for declaration of noncoverage.

[¶3] We begin with the court's ruling on insurer's summary judgment motion. On appeal from a court's decision to grant summary judgment, " [i]n reviewing the facts, we give the nonmoving party ... the benefit of all reasonable doubts and inferences." Buxton v. Springfield Lodge No. 679, 2014 VT 52, ¶ 2, ___ Vt. ___, 99 A.3d 171 (quotation omitted.) The incident giving rise to these lawsuits occurred on May 17, 2009, while plaintiff was at defendant's business, Chandler Electric. At the time of the alleged injury, plaintiff had been dating defendant for six years. She later married him in 2010.[1] According to plaintiff's and defendant's depositions, plaintiff stated that her purpose that day was " just a visit" to her boyfriend, the defendant. Defendant understood that plaintiff " came there because I was dating her." There were no other people in the building at the time. Upon entering the building, plaintiff " came up to [defendant's] office to say hello to [him]." Accordingly, plaintiff proceeded up a short flight of stairs to a landing, and then ...


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