Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Declaratory Judgment Entered In Favor of Homeowner's Carrier on Intentional Acts Exclusion in Shooting Case

Summary judgment was recently entered in favor of a carrier in a declaratory judgment action of Erie Insurance Exchange v. Moore, et al., No. CR 2014 - 4931 (C.P. Wash. Co. May 31, 2016 Emery, J.).  The court entered summary judgment in favor of the carrier on a coverage question that implicated an intentional acts exclusion under a homeowner’s policy in a case arising out of a tragic shooting.

The party injured in the shooting sued the shooter’s estate seeking damages for his personal injuries.  The Estate representatives sought coverage under the shooter’s ERIE homeowner's policy.  ERIE provided the Estate with a defense to the lawsuit, but also commenced a declaratory judgment action, seeking a declaration that no coverage was owed because shooter’s actions were intentional and, thus, barred from coverage for several reasons, including the policy's "intentional act" exclusion.  The injured party argued in the coverage action that the shooter did not intend to shoot him, but rather accidentally shot him during the struggle.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment.  By Order of May 31, 2016, the Honorable Katherine Emery, president judge of the Washington County Court of Common Pleas, entered an Order granting ERIE's Motion for Summary Judgment and denying Carly's Motion. 

In her Opinion, Judge Emery essentially found that the policy covers only "accidents" and not intentional acts.  The Court quoted a previous Superior Court decision that held "[a]n insured intends an injury if he desired to cause the consequences of his act or if he acted knowing that such consequences were substantially certain to result." 

Judge Emery found that, under all of these circumstances, the shooter's acts that resulted in the injury of Carly were intentional, per this definition.  Specifically, Judge Emery held that "[t]he shooting of Carly plainly resulted from human agency.  Moreover, the prospect of injury from a gun firing during a physical struggle over that gun was no less plainly and reasonably anticipated.  As such, while tragic, the shooting of [the injured party] by [the shooter], cannot fall within the definition of an accident." 

Anyone wishing to review this case may click this LINK

I send thanks to the prevailing defense attorney Craig Murphey of the Erie, Pennsylvania law firm of MacDonald, Illig, Jones & Britton, LP for bringing this case to my attention. 

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