(CN) – A 17-year-old hockey player who punched out his coach and put him in a coma will have the chance to prove that his parents’ insurance company should have covered the coach’s lawsuit against him.
The insurer’s failure to hire independent counsel may have prejudiced hockey player Thomas Olsak, an Illinois appeals court ruled.
Olsak was not eligible to take the ice on the night of the incident because he had skipped a pair of mandatory practices.
However, he dressed for the game and confronted his coach, Joseph Pecoraro. As the coach was walking away, Olsak threw a hockey stick at his back.
When Pecoraro turned around, Olsak decked him. The coach fell backward and hit his head on the concrete. He lapsed into a coma and suffered permanent brain damage.
Olsak settled his lawsuit with Pecararo, allowing the coach to join his indemnification lawsuit against Country Mutual Insurance, which had denied coverage based on Olsak’s intentional act against his coach.
Country Mutual had a policy covering Olsak’s mother and stepfather, Ed and Desiree Pudlo. However, Pudlo was also a board member of the hockey club, placing him on both sides of the dispute.
The trial court granted summary judgment to Country Mutual. Olsak appealed, claiming that Country Mutual should have paid for independent counsel for him to avoid a conflict of interest.
Justice Murphy overturned the trial court’s decision.
“When there is a conflict of interest between an insurer and the insured,” Murphy wrote, “the insurer must decline to defend and pay the costs of independent counsel to the insured.
“This case must remanded,” the justice continued, “to make the final determination … whether Olsak was prejudiced by Country Mutual’s failure to retain independent counsel to represent him.”