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INSURANCE NOTES

Intentional Strike Resulting In Unintended Injury Held Not An “Accident” Under Liability Policy

08.05.2011

In State Farm General Ins. Co. v. Frake, __ Cal.Rptr.3d __, 2011 WL 2714179, the California Court of Appeal held that State Farm owed no duty to defend or indemnify an insured who, while engaging in drunken horseplay, hit his friend in the groin causing serious injury. The opinion clarified existing case law holding that the word “accident” in a standard insuring agreement “refers to the insured’s conduct, rather than the unintended consequences of that conduct.” The fact that the insured did not intend to injure his friend did not transform his intentional conduct into an “accident.”

Throughout a weekend visit in Chicago, the insured and his friend engaged in a form of consensual horseplay that involved “hitting each other in the groin.” After becoming very intoxicated, the insured surprised his friend by trying to hit him in the “general area of the stomach or groin,” but instead hit him directly in the groin. The insured allegedly “laughed triumphantly in having achieved a direct hit to [his friend’s] testicles, while he screamed various swear words . . . .” His friend sustained significant injuries and medical bills.

The insured was sued for negligence, assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The insured tendered the defense of the lawsuit to State Farm under a renter’s liability policy that provided coverage for damages because of bodily injury caused by an “occurrence.” The policy defined “occurrence” as an “accident which results in bodily injury.” State Farm initially denied coverage based on the lack of an “occurrence” under the policy but later agreed to defend under a reservation of rights.

Evidently to avoid a finding of intentional conduct, the suit against the insured was tried solely on the negligence theory. The jury found that the insured had acted negligently and awarded the friend over $450,000. The insured then assigned to the friend claims he had against State Farm.

State Farm filed a declaratory relief action, and the insured and his friend cross-complained against State Farm for breach of contract and bad faith. State Farm filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court denied State Farm’s motion and later granted summary adjudication to the insured and the friend on the duty to defend. State Farm appealed.

The Court of Appeal held State Farm had no duty to defend or indemnify. The Court stated that “where damage is the direct and immediate result of an intended event, there is no accident.” The insured had admitted that he intended to strike his friend in the groin area, and there was no dispute that the friend suffered injuries as a direct result of the strike. Based on these undisputed facts, the Court determined the bodily injury was not caused by an “accident.”

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