Monday, April 8, 2019

Nonsuit in Declaratory Judgment Action on Coverage Affirmed Based On Definition of "Occurrence"

In the case of Kiely v. Phila. Contrib. Ins. Co., 2019 Pa. Super. 90 (Pa. Super. March 26, 2019 Ott, J., Dubow, J. Stevens, P.J.E.)(Op. by Dubow, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed a trial court’s entry of compulsory non-suit in favor of the carrier on a coverage question arising out of a homeowner’s policy and/or an umbrella policy. 

According to the Opinion, an insured who was covered a homeowner’s policy and an umbrella policy issued by the same carrier was sued in an underlying litigation by a former domestic employee, who asserted claims of assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.   The insured had tendered the lawsuit to the carrier for a defense. The carrier denied coverage, asserting that the intentional torts alleged in the underlying Complaint were not “occurrences.” 

The insured then commenced this coverage litigation against the carrier seeking a declaration that the carrier was obligated to defend and indemnify the insured on the claims presented.  The insured also sought damages for bad faith.  

The coverage litigation proceeded to a trial.  At trial, the trial court permitted the insured to introduce evidence that evidence that he (the insured) lacked the mental capacity sufficient to intentionally assault the Plaintiff in the underlying matter.

The trial court entered a nonsuit in favor of the carrier after finding that the insured failed to introduce evidence of an “accident” which was required in order to trigger coverage under the policy for an “occurrence.”  

On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s entry of a compulsory nonsuit.   The court held that the insured’s alleged assault upon the underlying Plaintiff was not an “accident; rather, it was an intentional tort.”   Accordingly, given that the policy defined an “occurrence” as an “accident,” and given that the no accident or occurrence was alleged in the underlying personal injury Complaint, the Superior Court agreed that the carrier did not owe any duty to defend or indemnify under the policy.  

In addition to upholding the trial court’s entry of a compulsory nonsuit, the Superior Court additionally held that it was improper for the trial court to have permitted the insured to introduce evidence that the insured lacked the mental capacity to commit intentional torts.

The Superior Court noted that in a declaratory judgment action concerning insurance coverage issues, the allegations in the underlying personal injury Complaint control the analysis and that extrinsic evidence could not be admitted while the underlying lawsuit was still pending.  Simply put, in a coverage action, the essential analysis required involved comparing the allegations of the underlying Complaint to the insurance policy to determine if the coverage provisions were triggered.

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

I send thanks to Attorney Benjamin P. Novak, Esquire of the Lancaster, Pennsylvania office of Fowler, Hirtzel, McNulty & Spaulding, LLP, for bringing this case to my attention.

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