A tort happens when one person’s conduct results in harm to another. If a tort is intentional – such as an assault and battery – it can be grounds for a criminal case, but it can also be the foundation of a civil case.
While many intentional torts result in serious pain, suffering and loss for the victims, it can be difficult to recover damages for a number of reasons. The first is that most tortfeasors (alleged wrongdoers) in intentional tort cases are not independently wealthy. That means simply proving the case won’t be enough. There has to be a way to actually collect on whatever damages are imposed. In other types of injury cases, this is usually a matter of identifying the tortfeasor’s insurance company and reviewing the policy. But with intentional torts, it’s trickier because most insurance companies – auto, homeowner insurance, umbrella insurance, etc. – won’t cover injuries caused by intentional harm. It’s sometimes referred to as an “intentional loss exclusion.”
Some policies may have some narrow exceptions to this, so it’s important for your attorney to analyze it closely. It may also be possible to hold a third party – such as a tortfeasor’s employer – vicariously liable. However, it will depend on the individual circumstances.
The recent case of Metro Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Estate of Benson illustrates some of the challenges these cases can pose.
Back in 2010, a 24-year-old man was walking down the street with his female friend when they passed a group of men sitting outside the home belonging to one of their grandmothers. The young men had been drinking at a local bar, despite being underage. The grandson in the group made a series of sexual advances toward the young woman, who felt frightened and stood behind her 24-year-old friend, who told the 20-year-old grandson to leave. The grandson responded with a single punch to the face. That punch caused the other young man, a University of Maine student who was only trying to protect his friend, to fall back onto the ground, striking his head on the pavement. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died the next morning.
The grandson who struck him later pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with 7.5 years of that suspended.
Decedent’s parents later filed wrongful death lawsuits against the attacker, as well as the bar that served alcohol to him that night. The attacker later agreed to sign over all rights to any claim he might have under his grandmother’s home owners’ insurance policy to decedent’s family in exchange for a release of liability. Plaintiff then pursued claims against the homeowners’ insurance company, as well as the bar that allegedly served alcohol to the underage young men that night.
It’s not clear from news reports or court records where the case against the bar stands. We do know, however, that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court recently weighed in on the claim against the homeowners’ insurance company. The firm insists that firstly, the attacker was never an insured, meaning it had no responsibility to provide any indemnification to him in the civil assault and battery injury lawsuit. Secondly, the insurer asserts that even if the attacker was an insured, the policy excluded coverage for intentional torts.
Trial court agreed and granted a motion of summary judgment. Plaintiff appealed, and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed. The policy language on the homeowner insurance policy clearly excludes coverage for damages stemming from “intentional loss,” which is defined in part as intentional criminal acts or omissions.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Metro Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Estate of Benson , Dec. 1, 2015, Maine Supreme Judicial Court
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