An unusual case before the Supreme Court Tuesday. The father of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett says the little girl's aunt is partially responsible for Brooke's death, and he wants her insurance company to pay.
Brooke Bennett's father, James, says Woodward acted negligently for allowing the little girl around Woodward's former husband, Michael Jacques. Jacques is awaiting trial for the alleged kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of 12-year-old Brooke. James Bennett wants Woodward's insurance company to cover the bodily injury and his suffering. Tuesday, his attorney took the case to the Vermont Supreme Court.
"The allegation is that she failed to exercise reasonable care in the protection of her niece, that she was negligent," said Paul Perkins, James Bennett's attorney.
The case made it to Vermont's top judges after it worked its way through the trial court. That court ruled that Woodward's policy does not cover the little girl's alleged kidnapping, sexual assault and murder for three reasons:
First the incident was an intentional act and not an accident. Second, the act was an intentional act by the insured. And third, there was no "bodily injury" because the harm resulted from "sexual molestation of a person."
Robin Cooley, the attorney for the Co-operative Insurance Company, told the justices, "Bodily injury per our definition does not mean harm or death that arises out of the actual alleged or threatened sexual molestation of a person."
James Bennett's attorney told the court that the homeowner's insurance policy covers Woodward and Jacques as individuals, arguing Woodward's alleged negligence is independent of Jacques' alleged behavior.
"The purpose of the clause is to ensure that each of the insured are treated separately in the determination of coverage and the application of exclusion," Perkins said.
It could take 90 days before the Supreme Court issues a ruling in this case.
Woodward and Bennett were not in the courtroom Tuesday. We did not reach the insurance company's lawyer for comment. Bennett's lawyer declined our request for an interview.
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