Supreme Court Reverses $2,775,000 Judgments against Insurance Company for Bar Fight Incident

May 30, 2012

Nashville, Tenn.The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that there was no insurance coverage under a commercial liability policy issued to a Hendersonville bar and restaurant where one person was killed and another injured in a bar fight on the insured’s premises.   

On Sept. 20, 2007, David Smotherman assaulted Samuel Clark resulting in Clark’s death. While attempting to intervene, Leonard Gamble was also injured during the assault. The incident took place at Sputniks, a bar and restaurant in Hendersonville, Tenn. Gamble and Clark’s widow, Donna Clark, sued Sputniks, which did not defend the tort action. The trial court entered a default judgment against Sputniks, awarding Gamble $275,000 and Donna Clark $2,500,000. The plaintiffs then filed a lawsuit seeking to collect the amount of the judgments from Sputniks’ liability insurance carrier, QBE Insurance Company. 

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the insurance company was not barred from arguing that there was no insurance coverage because of the previously entered default judgments in the initial tort actions and that the insurance policy did not provide coverage for the bar fight incident. The Court noted that the policy excluded “assault and battery or any act or omission in connection with the prevention or suppression of such acts” and that the plaintiffs did not allege that their injuries occurred because of the selling, serving or furnishing of any alcoholic beverage. Because the insurance policy expressly excluded coverage for the injuries resulting from the assault and battery, the Court reversed the judgments for the plaintiffs. 

To read the Donna Clark v. Sputniks, LLC opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/clarkdonna__gambleleonard.opn_.pdf.