Penn. Court: Homeowners’ Policy Doesn’t Cover Injury From Insured’s Prank

May 16, 2014

A Pennsylvania appeals court has affirmed this month that a homeowners’ insurer has no duty to defend or indemnify in an underlying case where the policyholder’s teenage son caused an injury to a friend during horseplay.

The dispute involves American National Property and Casualty Companies (ANPAC), which issued a homeowners policy to Thomas and Lynn Hearn in Pennsylvania. During one evening in September 2006, their son Brandon Hearn visited his friend Clayton Russell at his home. Brandon and Clayton, and a group of their friends, were hanging out in Clayton’s basement, the court papers said.

During Brandon’s visit, Clayton was playing a video game called “Dance, Dance Revolution.” In this game, the player is given instructions as to where to step on the floor pad, and the player scores points for speed and accuracy.

While Clayton was playing the game, Brandon snuck up behind Clayton and struck him in the groin. Clayton felt immediate pain which intensified during the night. The following day, Clayton’s mother took him to the emergency room where he underwent emergency surgery. Diagnostic tests revealed that Clayton may be permanently infertile as a result of having been struck, according to court papers.

In 2008, Clayton and his mother filed a civil complaint against Brandon seeking damages. In his deposition, Brandon testified that the act was intentional, though he never meant to hurt his friend. He testified that he visited Clayton in the hospital, “Because I felt really bad. I never meant to hurt him like that. I meant for him to be in pain for about five seconds. I never meant for him to go to the hospital. I felt extremely bad, and I was concerned.”

The insurer ANPAC subsequently filed a declaratory judgment complaint, asserting that any damages claimed in the underlying civil complaint are based on Brandon’s intentional acts and are therefore not covered under the policy.

ANPAC contended that, because Brandon’s act of hitting Clayton was intentional conduct, the exclusion relieves ANPAC of any duty it otherwise has to insure, defend, and indemnify the insureds in the underlying complaint.

Court documents show that the relevant exclusion in the insurer’s policy reads: 1. Coverage E – Personal Liability and Coverage F – Medical Payments to Others do not apply to bodily injury or property damage: a. which is expected or intended by any insured even if the actual injury or damage is different than expected or intended[.]

Brandon testified that he only meant to cause Clayton momentary discomfort; however, the appeals court stated, the policy excludes coverage of bodily injuries resulting from intentional acts “even if the actual injury or damage is different than expected or intended.”

After reviewing the filings, the trial court granted ANPAC’s motion for summary judgment and agreed with ANPAC that the policy did not apply to the claims raised in the underlying complaint. A three-judge panel in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on May 5 affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

The case is American National Property and Casualty Companies v. Thomas W. Hearn, Lynn A. Hearn, Brandon Thomas Hearn, Clayton Russell and Stacey Marshall, No. 652 Eda 2013, in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, May 5, 2014.

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