COVID-19 Resource Center

May 27, 2008

Supreme Court Revisits “Accident” And “Occurrence”

This case addressed whether a homeowner insurer owes liability coverage to the insured parents of their son who shot six people. In affirming the dismissal of the insurer’s coverage action, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the parents’ negligence was an “accident” under both the policy and Pennsylvania case law, thus giving rise to coverage. The Court also held that the alleged negligence of the parents in not taking the gun away from their son or reporting their concerns about him to the authorities was a single “occurrence” under the policy resulting in a single liability limit, not six separate “occurrences.”

To determine whether the injuries that are the impetus of the action were caused by an “accident” and therefore an “occurrence” under the policy, a Court must find an unexpected and undesirable event occurring unintentionally. The Supreme Court stressed that the key term in the definition of accident is “unexpected,” which implies a degree of fortuity. An injury therefore is not “accidental” if the injury was the natural and expected result of the insured's actions. Here, the Supreme Court held that the extraordinary shooting spree resulting in injuries cannot be said to be the natural and expected result of the parents’ alleged acts of negligence. While the son’s conduct was clearly intentional, the case concerned the negligence of the parents. 

What It Means to You

Generally, terms and definitions in a policy will guide coverage decisions. The basis for the Supreme Court's decision here was grounded in the express terms of the policy, as well as common insurance principles. Any coverage determination must begin with the policy; however, the current trends in judicial interpretation of those terms will control. Clearly, this decision will be relied upon in attempting to broaden coverage. The attorney's at Cipriani & Werner are ready and available to discuss any coverage or liability questions you may have.
 

Sources

Donegal Mutual Insurance v. Baumhammers