Intentional Acts Exclusion Bars Coverage for Wrongful Death Lawsuit

A federal district court, applying Missouri law, has held that an insurer had no duty to defend or indemnify an insured because the underlying litigation alleged intentional conduct that was barred by an intentional acts exclusion, notwithstanding additional negligence allegations.  Chubb Nat’l Ins. Co. v. Estate of Robert O’Block, 2022 WL 627031 (W.D. Mo. Mar. 3, 2022).

In 2017, the insured physically assaulted, shot, and killed a woman in his home.  The claimant filed a lawsuit against the insured’s estate, asserting two causes of action: (1) wrongful death by intentional tort, which alleged that the insured acted with intent to cause bodily harm with evil motive, maliciously, and without justification and excuse; and (2) wrongful death by negligence, which expressly incorporated the paragraphs and subparagraphs of the first cause of action by reference.

The insurer denied coverage for the underlying litigation based on the policy’s intentional act exclusion, which precluded coverage for “any damages arising out of a willful, malicious, fraudulent or dishonest act or any act intended by any covered person to cause personal injury or property damage, even if the injury or damage is of a different degree or type than actually intended or expected.  But we do cover such damages if the act was intended to protect people or property unless another exclusion applies.  An intentional act is one whose consequences could have been foreseen by a reasonable person.  This exclusion does not apply to Employment practices liability coverage.”

In the coverage litigation that followed, the insurer filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the intentional acts exclusion precluded coverage for the underlying litigation because the complaint alleged that the insured’s assault, shooting, and killing of the woman were intentional acts that implicated the exclusion.  The insured, by contrast, argued that the exclusion did not bar coverage because the underlying litigation alleged that the woman’s wrongful death was caused by the insured’s negligence.  The court ruled in favor of the insurer, holding that the intentional acts exclusion barred coverage for the underlying litigation notwithstanding the allegations of negligence.  In so holding, the court determined that the insured’s actions and the consequences of such conduct could have been foreseen by a reasonable person.  While the court acknowledged that the complaint included a claim of negligence based on these same actions, the court noted that this count specifically incorporated all prior paragraphs of the complaint, including the allegations of intentional and malicious conduct.  Further, the court found there was no evidence that the insured was protecting his home from an intruder, as the only eye-witness saw him standing over the woman and pointing a gun at her just before firing.

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