Thursday, January 13, 2022

Coverage Found Under a Homeowner's Policy For a Drug Overdose at a House Party


In the case of Kramer v. Nationwide Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., No. 726 EDA 2021 (Pa. Super. Dec. 2, 2021 Lazarus, J., Dubow, J., and Pellegrini, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed an insurance coverage action arising out of an incident during which the insured’s son hosted a house party at his parents’ home while they were out of town. Early in the morning thereafter, the decedent partygoer was found dead and a coroner later determined that the cause of death was a drug overdose.

The decedent’s mother filed a wrongful death and survival action against the homeowners and their son. The Plaintiffs asserted that the son who hosted the party was negligent in supplying the decedent with the drugs that caused his overdose. The Plaintiffs also allege in both the survival and wrongful death claims that the homeowners were negligent in allowing their son to use the home in such regard.

At the time of the incident, Nationwide was the insurance company for the parents at whose house the party was held. Nationwide denied coverage under the case presented.

According to the Opinion, the insurane policy at issue provided that Nationwide must “pay damages and insured is legally obligated to pay due to an occurrence resulting from negligent personal acts or negligence arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of real or personal property.”

In asserting that it did not have to provide a defense, Nationwide relied upon coverage exclusions in the policy which applied when certain damages arise from criminal conduct or the use of controlled substances.

The trial court had ruled that Nationwide had a duty to defend and the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed this decision.

Although the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed the policy exclusion noted above, it ruled, in part, that the carrier was required to defend its insured in this suit arising from an alleged accidental drug overdose death because the damages under the Wrongful Death Act did not implicate the term “bodily injury” under the policy definitions.

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

I send thanks to Attorney Matthew D. Vodzak of the Philadelphia office of Fowler Hirtzel McNulty & Spaulding, LLP for bringing this case to my attention.

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