Friday, November 2, 2018

Homeowner's Insurance Carrier's Duty To Defend Addressed in Assault Case

In the case of Homesite Ins. Co. v. Neary, No. 17-2297 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 17, 2018 Bartle, J.), the court addressed a homeowner’s insurance company’s duty to defend in a matter involving a physical assault.  

According to the Opinion, two (2) roommates sharing a rented apartment got into a physical altercation, first at an off-premises party and then again at the rented apartment.  

After the Plaintiff sustained a traumatic brain injury as a result of the attack, a lawsuit was filed against the other roommate, alleging claims of negligence, recklessness, and other claims.  

The carrier had issued a homeowner’s policy to the attacker’s parents.  The homeowner’s insurance company filed this declaratory judgment action seeking a judicial declaration that it had no duty to defend the attacker.   The issue came before the court by way of a Motion for Summary Judgment. 

According to the Opinion, the homeowner’s insurance carrier’s limited coverage to injury or damage caused by an “occurrence,” which was defined as an accident.   The term “accident” was not defined in the policy.

Accordingly, the court construed that word according to its natural, plain, and ordinary sense to mean “an unexpected and undesirable event occurring unintentionally.”  The court noted that the key phrase in the definition of an “accident” is the word “unexpected” which the court found to be imply a degree of fortuity.  

Although the Plaintiff’s Complaint contained allegations of negligence, the court noted that the Plaintiff’s characterization of the claims is not controlling on the coverage question issues.   Rather, the court was required to look at the factual allegations.   In the end, the court found that the Plaintiff’s attempts to characterize the causes of action as claims sounding a negligence was insufficient to trigger the carrier’s duty to defend.   Accordingly, the carrier’s Motion for Summary Judgment was granted.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.”  Pennsylvania Law Weekly (October 2, 2018).

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