University of Vermont AAHS

Farmers & Mechanics Mutual Insurance Co. v. Casey

 

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals
201 W.Va. 418, 497 S.E.2d 771
November 21, 1997

 

Summary of Opinion

Mr. and Mrs. Casey employed Lloyd Kesner to work on their horse farm. While cleaning fence row, Mr. Kesner was injured. He wished to be compensated by the insurance company that issued a farm policy to the Caseys. However, the company refused coverage on the ground that the policy excluded farm employees.

The trial court found in favor of the insurance company without a trial. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that Mr. Kesner was working as a farm employee. The work he performed was such that he was an employee; he was not an independent contractor. Therefore, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court's decision in favor of the insurance company.

 

Text of Opinion

This is an appeal by John A. Casey and his wife from a summary judgment order of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County. In that order the circuit court ruled that the appellee, the Farmers & Mechanics Mutual Insurance Company of West Virginia, which had issued a premises liability policy to the appellants, had no duty to defend the appellants in a civil action brought by Lloyd Kesner, who was injured on the appellants' premises. In reaching its decision the circuit court concluded that the policy to the appellants did not cover the appellants' farm employees and that Mr. Kesner was the appellants' farm employee at the time of his injury. In this proceeding the appellants claim that the circuit court erred in concluding that Mr. Kesner was not covered and in rendering the summary judgment. After reviewing the issues presented and the documents filed, we disagree with the appellants' assertions. The judgment of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County is, therefore, affirmed.

Some time prior to May 16, 1995, the appellee, Farmers & Mechanics Mutual Insurance Company of West Virginia, issued a farm owner's policy to the appellants, John A. Casey and Elaine S. Casey, insuring them against certain perils relating to the ownership of the parcel of property located in Jefferson County, West Virginia. The policy contained certain exceptions and exclusions, one of which stated that coverage for personal liability and medical payments to others did "not apply to liability: ... k. resulting from bodily injury to a farm employee." The policy defined a farm employee as follows:

John A. Casey, raised, bred, and boarded horses for profit on the property covered by the policy, and the documents filed in this case indisputedly show that, on May 16, 1995, Lloyd Kesner, who was being paid to clean a fence row on the appellants' property was injured in a tractor accident.

A claim was filed for the damages resulting from the accident against Farmers & Mechanics Mutual Insurance Company of West Virginia under the policy issued to the appellants, but Farmers & Mechanics Mutual Insurance Company, relying upon the provision which excluded from coverage a "farm employee," denied coverage under the policy. Thereafter, on August 15, 1995, Farmers & Mechanics Mutual Insurance Company of West Virginia filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County seeking a declaratory judgment to the effect that the policy issued to the appellants did not cover the injury to Mr. Kesner.

After extensive discovery each party moved for summary judgment. The court took the motions under advisement, and on June 26, 1996, ruled in a very comprehensive order that the insurance policy in question did not cover the injury to Mr. Kesner. In reaching this conclusion the court stated:
 

In the present appeal the appellants claim that the trial court erred in finding that Lloyd Kesner was their farm employee at the time of the accident on May 16, 1995, and that the court erred in holding the policy issued by Farmers & Mechanics Mutual Insurance Company of West Virginia did not cover the injury to Mr. Kesner.

In Syllabus Point 1 of Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994), this Court stated:

The Court has also stated:

Syllabus Point 3, Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Federal Insurance Co. of New York, 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963).

It appears that in the present case the real question is whether Mr. Kesner was an independent contractor rather than a farm employee at the time of the accident on May 16, 1995.

In Myers v. Workmen's Compensation Commissioner, 150 W.Va. 563, 148 S.E.2d 664 (1966), this Court extensively discussed the distinction between an independent contractor and an employee. In Syllabus Point 2 of that case the Court stated:

In Syllabus Point 3 the Court reiterated the rule set forth in Syllabus Point 2 of Spencer v. Travelers Insurance Company, 148 W.Va. 111, 133 S.E.2d 735 (1963). That syllabus point states:

In the present case the injured individual, Lloyd Kesner, gave a deposition which indicated that John A. Casey retained the right of control over what he did. At one point, the deposition proceeded as follows:

Mr. Kesner further testified that he did not remember ever going to the farm and doing anything that Mr. Casey had not asked him to do. He stated that on the day of the accident Mr. Casey had told him to clean out the fence row where the accident occurred and that he had done what he had been told. Mr. Kesner's deposition proceeded as follows:

He also testified as follows:

The Court believes that this and other evidence in the case which the trial court addressed exhaustively, shows that Mr. Casey did retain control over Mr. Kesner and that Mr. Kesner was Mr. Casey's employee.

As previously stated, the policy language defines a "farm employee" as an employee of the insured who has duties connected with the insured's farming operations. The undisputed evidence in record shows that Lloyd Kesner was injured on May 16, 1995, while he was cleaning out a fence row to prepare it for the installation of a new fence. The evidence also shows that the fence was a reasonable part of Mr. Casey's horse farming operation. Thus, the Court believes that Mr. Kesner was not only Mr. Casey's employee, but also his "farm employee."

In light of the evidence, and given the holding of this Court in Syllabus Point 3 of Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Federal Insurance Company New York, supra, we cannot conclude that the trial court erred in rendering summary judgment in favor of Farmers & Mechanics Mutual Insurance Company.

The judgment of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County is, therefore, affirmed.

Affirmed.


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