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Vol. 11 - Issue 4
August 15, 2022


Encore: Randy Spencer’s Open Mic

Office Holiday Party + Lamp Shade On The Head = Coverage Dispute








This Open Mic column originally appeared in the December 18, 2019 issue of Coverage Opinions


It is one of the oldest gags in the book.  Someone is at a party, has too much to drink and puts a lamp shade on their head.  But does anybody really do that?  Or is it just a joke people make about someone drinking too much?

Well, for sure it happened once.  And it didn’t end well for the gagster.  And, as often happens when people do foolish stuff, enter the lawyers.  Enter the insurance claim.  Enter the coverage dispute.  Enter the DJ action.  Enter Randy Spencer.     

The Nebraska district court in Mansion on the Hill Hotel, LLC v. Coast City Property & Casualty Company, No. 19-23687 (Neb. Dist. Ct. (Lancaster Cty.) Dec. 2, 2019) tells the tale.  It all started on December 10, 2017 at the annual holiday party, held by Highway Industries at the Mansion on the Hill Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Highway is in the business of making the cardboard tubes inside rolls of paper towels and toiler paper.  The company boasts that its tubes have been used in over one billion craft projects. 

At the party, Joe Roberts, Highway’s sales manager, overindulged on purple flip flops – a drink make up of pomegranate juice, pineapple juice, coconut rum and vodka.  The combination of pomegranate juice and pineapple juice makes for a lovely purple color.  Roberts was ridiculed all night for his choice of beverage.  Most people were drinking Tanqueray.  By the end of the party Roberts was hammered.

While leaving the hotel, to meet his Uber vehicle, Roberts stopped at a table in the lobby.  On it was a lamp with a cone-shaped shade.  Roberts joked to his colleagues that he wears a size 9 lamp shade and would see if it fit.  Roberts pulled the shade off and put it on his bald head.  Unfortunately for Roberts, the shade had a metal ring at the top.  On account of the 150 watt bulb just an inch away from it, Roberts suffered a perfectly circular second degree burn on the top of his head.  It resembled a halo.  Behind Roberts’s back his colleagues called him the idiot angel. 

Roberts sued Mansion of the Hill Hotel for negligence.  He alleged that the hotel failed to warn that the lamp shade contained a burning hot ring that would clearly cause a head burn to anyone who tried it on.  Roberts argued that the hotel, because of its heavy volume of holiday parties, knew that the lamp shade in the lobby was as attractive nuisance for intoxicated guests and also knew that the ring at the top was very hot.  Thus, Roberts maintained that the hotel had a duty to warn about the risks of putting on the shade.  Or the hotel should have only used lamps with permanently affixed shades.    

Mansion provided notice of the complaint to Coast City P&C and sought a defense under its commercial general liability policy.  Coast City retained John Brown to defend Mansion under a reservation of rights.  Coast City then filed an action seeking a determination that it had no obligation to provide coverage to Mansion for any damages awarded to Roberts on account of his injury. 

Coast City maintained that no coverage was owed for damages on account of the policy’s Holiday Party exclusion, which provided as follows: “This insurance does not provide coverage for any claim arising out of an organization holding a party between Thanksgiving and December 31.”

Coast City P&C was aware that the hotel hosted many company holiday parties and did not want to be exposed to lability for events associated with sometimes foolish behavior on account of overindulgence in alcohol.

Coast City and Mansion filed competing motions for summary judgment.  The court in Mansion on the Hill Hotel, LLC v. Coast City Property & Casualty Co. held that the Holiday Party exclusion served to preclude coverage for any damages awarded to Roberts on account of his injury.

The court concluded that the exclusion was not ambiguous: “The court agrees with Coast City that there is only one reasonable interpretation of the Holiday Party exclusion.  The court reject’s Mansion’s argument that, because the injury sustained by Roberts took place after the party was over, and outside of the party venue, it was not arising out of an organization holding a party.  If Roberts tripped and fell into the Gargoyle fountain in the lobby, the court would have a more difficult task.  But Roberts testified at his deposition that he would not have put the lamp shade on his head if not for his many fruity libations, being in the company of co-workers at a party and an alcohol-fueled atmosphere.  Roberts’s account, of why he used a lamp shade as a fedora, shined a bright light on why his injury arises out of an organization holding a party.  While it is not the court’s role to address whether the hotel should have taken action to prevent this Christmas story, it may want to use a leg lamp during the month of December.”


That’s my time. I’m Randy Spencer.

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