Intentional Acts Do Not Trigger Duty to Provide Coverage Even when Bare Allegations of Negligence Are Pled

Stephen A. Horvath, Esquire
February 2nd, 2010
By: Stephen A. Horvath, Esquire

Intentional Acts Do Not Trigger Insurance Coverage Even when There Is a Bare Allegation of Negligence

Insurance companies are frequently confronted with the question as to whether or not they have a duty to defend a lawsuit when there are allegations of intentional acts by their insured and an insertion of a bare negligence claim. Recently, this firm was successful in obtaining a ruling from Judge Henry Hudson in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in such a case. Judge Hudson held that by merely inserting the word ”negligently” prior to a description of intentional acts, insurance coverage is not triggered. The court found that such a bare allegation of negligence does not modify the allegations that the acts were intentional. In Markel Insurance Company v. Staples, Civil Action No. 3:09-cv-435 (Jan. 28, 2010), Markel Insurance Company and USAA both argued that there was no occurrence, as defined by the policy, and that the intentional acts exclusion applied. In this case, the plaintiff alleged that she was traveling with the defendant on a year-long sailing cruise, and, while anchored in St. George’s Harbor in Grenada, a domestic dispute arose, which led to her being tied, gagged, falsely imprisoned, and assaulted and battered. Also included in the allegations was the adverb “negligently”. Judge Hudson was able to look behind the mere allegation of negligence and find that there was no duty to indemnify or defend. “[T]he mere presence of a negligence claim is insufficient to end-run an intentional acts exclusion. Instead, a reviewing court should examine the facts of the underlying complaint and the nature of the claim”. It is important to keep in mind that, in Virginia, the obligation to provide a defense is greater than the duty to indemnify and is determined on a case-by-case basis, and that, because of the risk associated with the failure to provide a defense, an insurance company is usually better off providing a defense and should provide a defense under a reservation of rights until a decision has been rendered by the court on this issue. For more information about first party coverage questions and an insurer’s duty to defend, please call Steve Horvath, 703 385-1000.

Disclaimer

This blog and the information provided has been prepared by Bancroft, McGavin, Horvath & Judkins, P.C. (“BMHJ”) for information purposes only and is not intended nor to be construed as legal advice. This blog may contain the opinions of the members and associates of this firm on various legal issues and is not legal advice. Read More