Inferred intent and effect on insurance coverage: KFBM V. COYLE (COA 5/16/2008)

      DATE RENDERED: 5/16/2008

      KFB appeals TC judgment upon jury verdict that a homeowner’s policy issued to its insured Tweed provided coverage for the shooting of Elliott by Tweed’s husband, Coyle. The shooting occurred when Elliott (who worked with Tweed and had apparently developed a strong attraction for her) was caught driving by Tweed’s home in Nelson County and was pursued by Coyle. Coyle caught up with Elliott and forced him to stop, but Elliott again sped away which led Coyle to fire two shots at the vehicle with a pistol he had brought with him from the home. Coyle continued his pursuit and again caught up with Elliott in a parking lot in Hardin County. The same scenario again unfolded only this time Coyle struck Elliott with one of the shots fired into the vehicle window on this second occasion. Elliott thereafter filed a personal injury suit against Coyle alleging assault and battery. KFB eventually intervened seeking a determination that the policy issued to Tweed did not cover the intentional acts of Coyle, who admittedly was an insured under the policy as a household resident. KFB argued there was no "occurrence" under this factual scenario and that alternatively, the policy exclusion applied since the injury was expected or intended by Coyle. The TC denied both of KFB’s MSJ’s and submitted the question of intent to the jury by tendering the following instruction: Do you believe from the evidence that Coyle intentionally fired a pistol at or in the general direction of Elliott with the expected result of wounding/harming Elliott and was not an "accident" in the sense of being merely negligent and unintended? The second instruction read as follows: Do you believe from the evidence that Coyle understood the physical nature of the consequences of his actions and intended to shoot or expect to injure Elliott upon discharge of the firearm …, and was not an "accident" in the sense of being merely negligent and unintended? The jury answered "No" to both thereby concluding Coyle’s shooting was a negligent and unintended accident.
      On appeal, KFB argues that summary judgment should have been entered on the basis of the inferred intent doctrine. The COA acknowledged this exception to the general rule that if the injury was not actually and subjectively intended or expected by the insured, coverage is provided even though the action giving rise to the injury itself was intentional and the injury foreseeable. Under the inferred intent rule, however, the actor’s intent to cause harm can be reasonably inferred from the facts and the nature of the action without having to resort to proof of that intent. The COA noted that Kentucky courts have applied this doctrine in the specific context of child molestation and even where the insured established a mental incapacity that precluded him from forming an intent to cause harm. The COA then highlights the reasoning from a number of decisions in which the doctrine was applied to deny coverage, particularly the recent COA decision in Nationwide Ins. Co. v. Pelgen (2007) where the insured who shot his wife had a mental incapacity. The COA reiterated the general view that the inferred intent rule is supported by sound public policy principles. As applied to the subject case, the COA held that Coyle’s admission that he intentionally pointed a firearm at Elliott with the intent of discharge a bullet at him was not an "occurrence" as contemplated by even a liberal reading and broad application of the terms of the policy. As such, the COA reversed the TC judgment and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of KFB.

      Digested By Chad Kessinger
      Schiller Osbourn Barnes & Maloney


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