It's something everyone should know before they buy insurance- just because you have insured your trailer does not mean you are covered if an elephant stomps someone to death in it.
That's the gist of a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. National American Insurance Company claims it should not have to bear the costs faced by the Webb City-based Tarzan Zerbini International Three Ring Circus, Inc., in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the widow of a man who was killed by a circus elephant last year in Fort Wayne, Ind.
In her lawsuit, filed Aug. 25 in Jasper County Circuit Court, Karen Gibson-Spenle, widow of Pierre Spenle, is asking for damages, interest, and costs to cover her husband's medical care and funeral expenses.
According to the Jasper County lawsuit, Pierre Spenle was helping Patricia Zerbini, daughter of the circus owner and an elephant trainer, and a third circus employee, put the elephants back in the trailer following an afternoon performance in Fort Wayne on Jan. 25, 2005. After two elephants had been loaded successfully, Ms. Zerbini and the third employee left, leaving Spenle to load a third elephant on his own.
According to the lawsuit, "Pierre Spenle loaded the last elephant and then attempted to close or latch certain metal bars that had been welded onto the circus trailer at the request and direction of the circus."
It didn't work out that way, the lawsuit alleges. One or more of the bars came loose, striking Spenle on the back of the head and knocking him to the floor. As he was lying there, unable to get up he "was repeatedly stepped on and/or kicked by the two elephants in the trailer," causing the injuries which led to his death.
The lawsuit says no one from the circus returned to check on Spenle. The lawsuit says that quite a while later an employee of the coliseum in which the performance was held "heard noises coming from the elephant trailer, saw the trailer shaking, and when he arrived at the trailer noticed Pierre Spenle lying on the trailer floor."
He called circus employees, who, at first, were unable to enter the trailer due to the elephant rampage. They finally were able to get Spenle to the hospital, where he died.
The lawsuit claims the circus was negligent, failed to provide proper assistance to Spenle, failed to properly build the trailer, failed to supervise its workers, and failed to "provide a reasonably safe place and/or conditions for work."
Spenle suffered "physical injuries, mutilation, trauma, extreme emotional distress, conscious pain and suffering, scarring, disfigurement and death," due to the Zerbini Circus' negligence, the lawsuit said.
In the federal lawsuit, the insurance company says it has no obligation to defend the circus, claiming the policy does not apply to bodily injury or death of an employee "performing the duties related to the conduct of the insured's business."