Insurance Coverage Cases: “Personal Injury Protection” May Provide Defense and Indemnity for Businesses in Tenant Disputes

The standard General Liability policy in Massachusetts, by which most businesses are insured, contains a little-known and rarely litigated part, the policy's “Personal Injury Protection” coverage. This is distinct from “bodily injury” and “property damage” coverage. The typical provision provides defense and indemnification for “personal injury” claims which are defined as:

injury, other than ‘bodily injury’ arising out of one or more of the following offenses; … (c) the wrongful eviction from, wrongful entry to, or invasion of the right of private occupancy of a room, dwelling or premises that a person occupies by or on behalf of its owner, landlord, or lessor …

Both recent and older precedent in Massachusetts indicates that claims for trespass, wrongful eviction, wrongful entry, and interference with quiet enjoyment are potentially covered claims under this “personal injury” provision. See, Dilbert v. Hanover, 63 Mass. App Ct. (2005); Titan Holdings Syndicate, Inc. v. City of Keene, New Hampshire, 898 F.2d 265 (1st Cir. 1990).

In 2004 and 2005, Weinberg & Garber had a series of four cases with different clients in which coverage was sought under the “personal injury” provision:

• An apartment complex owner defending claims by tenants for breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment and similar claims arising from construction activities at the property.

• A boundary dispute between two construction companies, where gravel was mined on the disputed parcel. The client was alleged to have trespassed and converted gravel.

• An apartment complex owner of a building which sustained a roof collapse, flooding many units and displacing tenants. The owner was sued by the tenants for wrongful eviction and replacement units.

• A commercial property landowner who was made party to a dispute between two tenants of a large commercial space over making modifications to a common entry way.