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Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Estate of Benson – Homeowners’ Insurance and Intentional Acts of Harm

Homeowners’ insurance is intended to provide compensation to those injured by members of the household. Usually, this coverage extends to incidents that occur in the home, on the property and sometimes out on the street (though incidents involving motor vehicles are generally excluded).handcuffs3

However, almost all homeowners’ insurance policies have some provision that excludes coverage for intentional acts. That is, if an insured acted with some specific intent to injure the victim, the resulting injury will not be covered under the policy. Many courts have held the intention of the insured is a question of fact for a jury, though sometimes there is substantial evidence and intent to harm (or lack thereof) is clear.

There may be some cases, however, where even intentional criminal acts could be covered. For example, if the perpetrator was acting in self-defense and used more force than was actually needed, coverage might be extended. Same for actions for which the accused lacks the mental capacity to act rationally. But it will all depend on the specific language in the policy.

The recent case of Metro Prop. Cas. Ins. Co. v. Estate of Benson before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court raised the question of whether a homeowners’ insurance policy could be responsible for indemnification of a household member in a wrongful death lawsuit, where the insured was accused of intentional harm.

Court records show the incident began with a verbal altercation between insured (grandson of homeowner) and decedent, a college student studying geology and chemistry. Accounts were that insured made a comment about decedent’s female companion as decedent walked past with his friend. The two did not know each other prior to this encounter. Insured then struck decedent in the face. As a result of that single punch, 24-year-old decedent fell backward, hit his head on the pavement and died. The insured, who was 20 at the time of the attack, was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.

Decedent’s estate sued insured for wrongful death. The estate then struck a deal with the insured: It promised not to execute a judgment against him personally if he admitted that his negligence caused decedent’s death and consented to a $400,000 judgment in favor of the estate before assigning all rights he may have had against the homeowner insurance company. The potential liability stemmed from the fact the attacker’s grandmother’s homeowner insurance policy was active at the time of the incident, which occurred in 2010.

A superior court in Maine granted summary judgment against the insured for $400,000. Estate then filed a reach-and-apply action against the insurance company. The insurer responded with a request for declaratory judgment that would determine its obligation to indemnify the insured. It then sought summary judgment arguing even if insured was covered under his grandmother’s policy (an assertion it refuted, despite that he lived with his grandmother), the claim would still be precluded by the intentional loss exclusion. The policy stipulated this exclusion was applicable even if an insured lacks’ mental capacity to govern his or her conduct, the injury is of a different kind or degree than reasonably expected or intended or the injury is sustained by a different person than intended.

The court granted insurer’s motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court analyzed at length the meaning of the phrase “intentional loss,” which was the exclusionary language in the policy. The term “intentional,” the court ruled, does not mean the intent to cause the ultimate harm. Rather, it means the act is both intentional and criminal.

Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.

Additional Resources:

Metro Prop. Cas. Ins. Co. v. Estate of Benson , Dec. 1, 2015, Maine Supreme Judicial Court

More Blog Entries:

Griffin v. Haunted Hotel, Inc. – Assumption of Risk Doctrine, Dec. 2, 2015, Lee County Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog