When an insurance policy is written such that provisions may be interpreted in more than one way, Florida law requires the interpretation favor the insured.

This is true whether we’re talking about auto insurance or homeowner’s insurance. Recently, the issue was central to the case of Heylin v. Gulfstream Property and Casualty Insurance Co., where a man was suing a homeowner for negligent supervision of his 17-year-old son, who reportedly committed battery on the plaintiff.

guncloseupThe question was whether a homeowners’ insurance policy provided liability coverage for a claim of negligent supervision in the underlying intentional tort. The insurer argued intentional torts weren’t covered under the policy, and therefore it had no duty to indemnify the defendant in the underlying lawsuit. However, plaintiff argued the severability clause was ambiguous, and therefore coverage should be rendered.

Although a trial court granted declaratory judgment to the insurer (not a named defendant in the underlying tort), Florida’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed, finding language in the severability clause almost identical to an insurance clause in Premier Insurance Co. v. Adams, where the court decided in 1994 the language was ambiguous and therefore the homeowner was entitled to coverage.

Cape Coral injury attorneys know that an allegation of negligent supervision in tort actions often involve employer/employee relationships, but they can sometimes assert harm against the child. For example, if a school fails to protect a child from entering heavy traffic and injury results, negligent supervision may be alleged. Similarly, if an adult fails to properly secure firearms and a child is hurt as a result, a personal injury action alleging negligent supervision by the child’s parents may be brought.

But negligent supervision can also be interpreted in the context of “failure to control.” That is, the adult knew or had reason to know the child had to be controlled (or protected), failed to do so and another person was injured as a direct result.

Although courts won’t generally hold third parties liable for criminal actions of someone else, there are exceptions, and negligent supervision of a minor who causes injury is one of those. In the Heylincase, we don’t know the exact details of the lawsuit, except that the 17-year-old allegedly committed battery against the plaintiff, leading to serious injury and plaintiff asserts negligence against the teen, and also names the parents as defendants for negligent supervision of their child.

In cases where injury occurs on private property, homeowners’ insurance may provide coverage to the victim. Although the insurer in Heylin wasn’t named as a defendant, it sought judgment that it wasn’t required to provide a defense or coverage to the defendant parents/its insured.

In its decision, the trial court cited a similar case from 2003, Hrynkiw v. Allstate Floridian Ins. Co.There, defendant’s minor son allegedly committed intentional battery on plaintiff when he took a pistol belonging to his parents, pointed it at plaintiff’s head at close range and pulled the trigger. Plaintiff survived, but suffered serious injury. Plaintiff alleged he was entitled to recover damages from the parents for failing to safely store the gun in their home and exercise parental control over their son (negligent supervision), given they knew he was on probation for violent behavior against someone else.

When defendants sought coverage from their insurer for their defense, the insurer denied coverage because the underlying tort stemmed from an intentional act. There, the court ruled in favor of the insurer because there was a joint-obligation clause.

However, there was no such language in the present case, and therefore the Fifth District held that decision was not controlling. Rather, the severability clause and intentional act exclusion create ambiguity, which means the court was compelled to rule in favor of the insured as far as coverage.

If you have been a victim of intentional personal injury, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040 to learn more about how we can help.

Additional Resources:

Heylin v. Gulfstream Property and Casualty Insurance Co., Sept. 19, 2014, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

GEICO v. Rodriguez – Insurer to Pay Sanctions in Pedestrian Injury Claim, Sept. 23, 2014, Cape Coral Personal Injury Lawyer