A Homeowner’s Insurance Policy Permits Injured Plaintiff to Bring Claim Related to Battery

Most homeowners rely on their homeowners’ insurance policy to provide coverage for any injuries suffered on the insured property. It is common for these types of policies to cover damages as a result of accidental or negligent acts. Typically, however, homeowners’ policies do not pay damages for intentional acts that result in personal injury.

After a trial court dismissed his claims, the Fifth District Court of Appeals has held that a Florida plaintiff could bring a claim for negligent supervision associated with injuries suffered as a result of the intentional tort of battery. Heylin v. Gulfstream Property and Casualty Ins. Co. involved an underlying personal injury claim brought by the plaintiff against a minor. The plaintiff also brought claims against the minor’s parents for negligent supervision. The parents’ insurer then sought a dismissal of those claims, arguing that the homeowners’ insurance policy did not provide liability coverage based on the act of battery because it was an intentional act. The trial court found that the policy did not provide coverage for the claim of negligent supervision.

The insurance policy in question included a provision excluding coverage for bodily injuries or property damage that was expected or intended by an insured. However, the policy also contained a “severability” provision, providing that insurance coverage applied separately to each insured person. Because of the inclusion of both provisions in the contract, the plaintiff argued on appeal that the policy was ambiguous and that his claim should not have been dismissed.

In its holding ,the trial court relied on a case in which an insurance company was not required to defend or indemnify policy holders in the event of an intentional tort battery. However, as pointed out by the appellate court, the insurance policy in that case included a joint-obligations clause, which was not present in the case currently before it. A joint-obligations clause merges all of the insured individuals into one inseparable legal entity. Therefore, when one individual acts in a manner that defeats insurance coverage, the rest of the insured individuals are also deprived of coverage.

The appeals court noted that it had previously addressed the issue of contract ambiguity almost 20 years prior. In the previous case, the insurance policy in question contained both an intentional-act exception as well as a severability clause, making it applicable and controlling over the plaintiff’s claims.

In Heylin, the Court of Appeals found that the inclusion of both a severability clause and an intentional-act exclusion created an ambiguity that should be resolved in favor of the insured. The court reversed the judgment of the trial court and directed summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, ordering the insurer to defend and provide liability coverage for the claim of negligent supervision.

If you believe your insurance company is not fulfilling its responsibilities under your insurance policy, you may be entitled to legal recourse and damages. The Southwest Florida injury attorneys at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano are skilled in dealing with insurance companies to recover the damages to which you are entitled. To speak with one of our attorneys to discuss your injuries, contact us or call toll-free at (800) 238-7442.

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