Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules Intentional Acts Covered by Insurance

Date: February 6, 2007

Whenever anyone is seriously injured or killed as a result of another’s person’s conduct, intentional or negligent, one of the first questions to consider is whether the wrongdoer has insurance to pay for the damages and injuries he caused.  If the wrongdoer does not have any insurance coverage, most times it is not a claim worth pursuing as most individuals are judgment proof.

Usually, insurance companies write policies that exclude coverage for any injuries or damages that are caused by an insured’s intentional conduct.  However, two recent decisions of the Pennsylvania Superior Court determined that insurance coverage was available to the wrongdoers even though the injuries and damages they caused resulted from intentional conduct.

In Donegal v. Baumhammers (Pa.Super. Feb. 2006), a couple was sued for negligence after their mentally disturbed adult son murdered five (5) people and severely wounded another during a shooting spree in April 2000.  The couple’s insurance company denied coverage under their homeowner’s policy on the basis that the injuries and damages caused by the insured couple’s son were intentional acts.  However, the Pennsylvania Superior Court determined that the couple’s insurance company did have a duty to provide coverage because the couple’s conduct in failing to properly secure the guns in the house fell within the definition of an “occurrence” under the policy for which coverage applied.

Similarly, in QBE Insurance Corp. v. M & S Landis Corp. (Pa.Super. 2007), a bouncer at Fat Daddy’s Nightclub smoothered a man to death in the process of throwing the man out of the bar.  The man’s family then sued the bar for wrongful death.  The bar’s insurance company denied coverage based on an exclusion in the policy for intentional conduct in the nature of an “assault and battery”.  However, because the allegation against the bar was that it was negligent in the training and supervision of the bouncer, and this conduct would be considered an “accident”, such conduct qualified as an “occurrence” under the policy, thus triggering coverage.  The Court explained that although the most immediate cause of the man’s death was the bouncer’s intentional conduct, the bar’s negligent conduct can also be considered a cause of the man’s death.

The lesson to be learned from the Baumhammers case and the M & S Landis Corp. case is that just because the most immediate cause of injury or death may have been through an intentional act, there may still be insurance coverage available to pursue if there was a secondary cause of injury or death which facilitated the intentional conduct which could be characterized as negligent or accidental.  If you or loved one were injured due to the intentional or negligent conduct of another, we at DLP invite you to contact us for a free evaluation regarding whether you have a legitimate claim for damages.

John P. Finnerty, Esquire

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.