Do Allegations of Intentional Conduct Relieve an Insurer of Its Duty to Defend?
In Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company v. Casey, 2017 WL 1186467 (Mass. App. Ct. 2017), Casey, Williams, and others, teenagers, smoke marijuana and consumed alcohol at a fiesta, then left together for a more remote location. When alone, Casey sucker punched Williams in the face causing serious injury. Casey was convicted of assault and battery. Williams made a claim to Casey’s homeowner’s insurer, Liberty, which disclaimed coverage based on an exclusion for “expected or intended injury.” Liberty brought a declaratory judgment action and prevailed on summary judgment. The Appeals Court upheld summary judgment for the insurer after an extensive recitation of the facts.
The court found Liberty had a substantial burden on summary judgment, but concluded its burden had been met. There were a multitude of facts supporting the conclusion that Casey had to have understood he was going to cause harm to Williams. Those facts triggered the exclusion. The court’s conclusion is not surprising, and had it stopped there, the decision would have been unremarkable. However, the court begins its recitation of the case by stating that the insurer was seeking a declaration that it had no duty to defend or indemnify Casey. Casey argued that his voluntary consumption of alcohol and marijuana prevented him from forming the requisite intent to cause injury. The court brushed the argument aside by pointing to post-incident police interviews of Casey, including his deposition admission that he understood that if you hit someone you will cause some level of injury. What was missing from the opinion is a discussion of the duty to defend and whether an insurer can use extrinsic evidence, such as deposition testimony in defeating a duty to defend, which the opinion could be read to suggest.
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