In most injury cases, we’re dealing with situations in which the tortfeasor (wrongdoer) was negligent or strictly liable or vicariously liable. That is, there was no intention on the part of the tortfeasor to harm another person, but that’s what happened due to a lack of care, breach of duty or assumption of responsibility for some product or the actions of another.
Intentional torts, though, are different because they stem from an intentional act. The key difference is the mental state of intentionally causing harm to the victim. Most intentional torts in injury law have criminal case counterparts (i.e., assault and battery, homicide, false imprisonment, etc.). Evidence gathered in the criminal investigation can help strengthen one’s proof in the civil case. However, the biggest challenge is not necessarily securing a verdict, but collecting damages.
Although plaintiffs may be successful in securing a judgment against an attacker who caused harm, the problem is most insurance companies do not provide coverage for harm caused by intentional acts. This is why it’s important to identify all possible defendants in an intentional tort case. Some possible defendants may be third parties who did not have a part in carrying out the action, but should have known such action was foreseeable and taken steps to prevent it or protect against it.
The recent case of Metro Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Estate of Benson, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court was asked to consider whether the lower court had made a mistake in granting summary judgment to a homeowners’ insurance company in the case of an intentional tort that resulted in death. The court ruled it had not.
This tragedy unfolded in 2010, when a college student stepped forward to protect his female companion as the two strolled at night past a group of underage men who were allegedly intoxicated. The group of men were reported to have made a number of sexual advances toward the woman, and she hid behind her 24-year-old male friend, who told the group to back off. One of those young men, just 19-years-old, took a swing that landed on the male companion’s face. He fell back, striking the back of his skull on the pavement. He was rushed to the hospital and died the next day.
The attacker was later arrested and pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. He was sentenced to 10 years but served only 2 years.
Decedent’s estate sued attacker on grounds of assault and battery, alleging defendant’s negligence caused decedent’s wrongful death. Defendant later consented to a judgment in his favor for $400,000. He assigned to the estate all rights he may have had against the homeowners’ insurance company.
The estate asserted that a policy belonging to attacker’s grandmother was applicable to this situation, as the confrontation occurred right outside her home. Attacker did live with his grandmother, though insurance company disputed his status as an insured. Even so, the company pointed to an intentional loss exclusion provision in the policy that relieved the firm of any liability for intentional torts. Attacker had intentionally punched decedent in the face.
Trial court granted summary judgment to insurer. Estate appealed, but the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed. Although the estate argued attacker lacked the intent to cause the resulting harm, the state supreme court concluded that did not matter. The issue was that attacker did act with the intention to commit a crime. The court declined to adopt the plaintiff’s assertion that in order to be “intentional,” an act has to involve the intent to cause ultimate harm.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Metro Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Estate of Benson, Dec. 1, 2015, Maine Supreme Judicial Court
More Blog Entries:
Slanovec v. Alstede Farms – Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Toddler Death Names Several Defendants, Dec. 4, 2015, Miami Injury Lawyer Blog