June 05--Webster and Wilmot beekeepers are set to receive about $2.4 million after a Day County jury ruled that an insurance company did not compensate them for losses from a dispute over some of the most valuable honey production land in the state.
Nationwide Insurance was ordered to pay Mike Block of Webster roughly $1.5 million and Monte Ammann of Wilmot about $858,000. Those totals include $500,000 in punitive damages for each man. Punitive damages are ordered to punish or deter a defendant.
The remainder of the two awards is compensation for business and personal losses resulting from the bee pasture dispute.
Block and Ammann had commercial general liability policies with Nationwide for their beekeeping businesses. Such policies are broad and protect businesses against liability, property damage, bodily injury, slanderous claims, being kicked off property and other instances, said Lee Schoenbeck, the Watertown attorney who represented Block and Ammann.
A series of incidents led to the verdict.
In 2007, Block and Ammann were sued by another honey producer, Richard Adee. Adee said they had made false claims about him to get landowners in the Enemy Swim/Sica Hollow area to allow them to keep bees on their land instead of him. Schoenbeck said to get that lawsuit dismissed, Block and Ammann gave up their bee pasture rights on the land.
Schoenbeck said Block and Ammann had to defend themselves in the Adee legal dispute without help from Nationwide. That led them to sue the insurance company for breach of contract, he said.
In that case, Judge Scott Myren ruled about two years ago that Nationwide had a duty to provide a defense to Block and Ammann.
The Day County jury trial that finished last week after five days of testimony was a follow-up to Myren's decision. Jurors found that Nationwide ruled that there were no valid exemptions to policies, that Nationwide had a duty to compensate Block and Ammann for their losses, that the company acted in bad faith in refusing to defend them and that it acted in bad faith in refusing to compensate them, according to paperwork jurors filled out.
Nationwide argued that Block and Ammann's dispute with Adee was not eligible for coverage and, later, that there were exemptions to the policy.
Schoenbeck said Ammann is no longer producing honey, but Block is, though less than he used to.
The judgments are subject to attorney's fees and other costs. They could also be appealed by Nationwide.
An in-state attorney representing Nationwide could not be reached for comment Monday.
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