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Vol. 10 - Issue 1
January 11, 2021

 

Is It Covered? Robot Vacuum Cleaner Causes “Bodily Injury”

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

We have four vacuum cleaners in our house.  Plus two dust busters – which I am constantly reminded by my wife are not vacuum cleaners, anytime I suggest using one for a job that she feels requires a vacuum.  My wife believes that we need so many vacuum cleaners because each has a separate purpose.   

I offer to help my wife whenever I see her vacuuming, which is often.  However, my extension of assistance is always turned down.  I’m not good enough at it, she insists.  Plus, she complains that I go around objects instead of moving them.  But I just don’t see why you need to move the ottoman in the living room, if the ottoman hasn’t been moved since the last time you vacuumed the living room.    

While I certainly believe that we have enough vacuum cleaners, there is still another than I’d like to buy – one of those robot vacuum cleaners that glide along the floor unassisted.  It looks like it would be so much fun to watch that thing cruise around the living room.  And I’m sure it would see it my way and not move the ottoman.  I wonder if you can tell it that it missed a spot and it’ll go back and re-do the area.  I would of course name it – not sure what -- and maybe put racing stickers on it.  Some of those robot vacuum vacuums are really expensive -- over a grand for certain models. 

While a vacuum doing laps around the dining room table doesn’t seem like it could be a dangerous endeavor, that was not the case for a family is Cheyanne, Wyoming.  In 2019, the Nortons purchased a robot vacuum cleaner, The 280ZX model, manufactured by Super Suction Industries.  They named it Gladys, after Andrew Norton’s great-great grandmother, whom Mr. Norton had recently come to learn about on Ancestry.com.      

Unlike some dogs, who attack robot vacuum cleaners, or run from them in fear (some funny videos on You Tube showing this), the Norton’s dog, an eight-pound Toy Fox Terrier named Buster, welcomed Gladys into the family home.  Buster sat on top of Gladys and rode around the house with her while she did her work.  [Some funny videos on You Tube showing this.]

After about a month of Gladys’s arrival, the Nortons discovered that Buster was having balance issues.  He couldn’t walk straight and would sometimes collapse on his side while walking.  In one instance, this led to a fracture of his ankle.  The vet had an immediately theory.  He asked Mrs. Norton if she had a robot vacuum. Well, that was the answer, he declared.  Some recent articles in veterinary literature had discussed a new trend – dogs developing a type of vertigo from riding on robot vacuum cleaners.         
 
The solution, the vet told the Nortons, in addition to Buster stopping his joy riding, was a three-month regimen of a medication costing $300 per month.  Given the uniqueness of doggie vertigo, the medication was very expensive as it had a small market.  In addition, Buster would need two months of physical therapy.  Altogether Buster’s treatment, including vet visits, came to about $2,000.

The Nortons, outraged, filed suit against Super Suction Industries in Laramie County small claims court, asserting a claim for products liability -- failure to warn.  Super Suction tendered the claim to its liability insurer, Dust Collectors Risk Retention Group.  Dust Collectors RRG disclaimed coverage to SSI on the basis that the Norton’s suit did not seek damages because of “bodily injury,” defined as “bodily injury, sickness or disease.” 

Super Suction retained counsel and lost the case at trial.  The court concluded that Super Suction had failed to warn the Nortons of the risk of doggie vertigo and, based on the many videos on You Tube, Buster had engaged in a reasonably foreseeable misuse of the 280ZX vacuum.  Super Suction paid the Nortons.

Super Suction, concerned about an onslaught of doggy vertigo claims, filed suit against Dust Collectors Risk Retention Group, in an effort to have the coverage issue resolved.  Super Suction maintained that Dust Collectors RRG’s disclaimer was improper, as there was nothing in the policy’s definition of “bodily injury” that limited it to injuries sustained by humans, as Dust Collectors RRG maintained.
    

The Court in Super Suction Industries v. Dust Collectors Risk Retention Group, No. 2020-734-CV (Wyo. Dist. Ct., Cheyanne Cty., Jan. 20, 2021) agreed with Super Suction, holding: “Super Suction is correct.  There is nothing in the definition of ‘bodily injury,’ contained in the Dust Collectors RRG Policy, that limits ‘bodily injury, sickness or disease’ to that suffered by a person.  As pointed out by Super Suction Industries, the vast majority of liability policies define ‘bodily injury,’ as ‘bodily injury, sickness or disease sustained by a person.’  Therefore, Dust Collectors RRG Policy could not have intended to limit the definition in the manner that it now maintains. The veterinary literature is clear that Doggie vertigo is a sickness.  While this decision may suck for Dust Collectors RRG, it has only itself to blame for the outcome.”
 
That’s my time. I’m Randy Spencer. Contact Randy Spencer at

Randy.Spencer@coverageopinions.info
 
 
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