Society Ins. v. Linehan

In Society Ins. v. Linehan, 2000 WI App 163, 238 Wis. 2d 359, 616 N.W.2d 918, the business owner was the sole proprietor of a tavern. He was sued because the dog he owned, which stayed at the tavern, was let outside by an employee and attacked someone. The insurer (also Society) conceded the dog served a business purpose because patrons came to the tavern to see the dog; also, the dog provided some security for the tavern because it slept there at night. However, the insurer argued there was no coverage because the dog was not furthering the purpose of the business when it attacked the person. The business owner contended that the phrase "with respect to the conduct of a business" focused on his activities and the activities of his employees, not the activity of the dog, which was his property. He asserted that his keeping the dog was part of the conduct of his business. The Court decided the phrase "conduct of a business" was not ambiguous, although we recognized it was not defined in the policy; we were persuaded by a number of cases in other jurisdictions that held the same phrase was not ambiguous. Id. The Court agreed with the business owner that the phrase required that we focus on his activities, not the activities of his dog, which was his property. Id. The Court observed that, based on the cases from other jurisdictions, "conduct is either business or personal." Id. The Court therefore framed the dispositive question as whether the conduct of the business owner and his employees, with respect to the dog, was business or personal. Id. Because it was undisputed the dog served a business purpose, the Court concluded that the owner's keeping of the dog was part of the conduct of his business, and because the injury occurred when an employee temporarily released the dog from the tavern, we concluded the owner was an "insured" as defined in the policy. Id.