A homeowner’s insurance policy typically covers the policyholder’s liability for personal injury claims that occur on the property. For example, if someone slips and falls in your home and subsequently sues you, your homeowner’s insurance policy will pay for any damages. But not every injury that occurs on a property is necessarily covered by a homeowner’s policy, which can leave a defendant on the hook for potentially millions in damages while making it more difficult for the injury victim to receive prompt compensation.
Trustgard Insurance Co. v. Herndon
One common homeowner’s insurance policy exclusion is for criminal acts. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed the applicability of such an exclusion. This case has its roots in an extramarital affair. The defendant was a married man in an “intimate relationship” with another woman, who also assisted him with maintaining his rental properties.
On the day in question, the woman and a friend went to the defendant’s house to pick up some money—payment for maintenance work—that he was supposed to leave in the mailbox. For some reason, the defendant only left about half of the promised money. The woman called the defendant to let him know she was coming back for the rest.
The woman sent her friend to the house because she did not want to risk meeting the defendant’s wife. Unfortunately, the defendant did not know the friend, and he “came out of the house carrying a gun.” The defendant then went to speak with the woman, who was still sitting in the friend’s truck. At some point, the defendant’s gun discharged, striking the woman in the leg. As a result of this incident, the defendant ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of “reckless conduct” and sentenced to a term of probation.
Meanwhile, the woman sought compensation for the medical bills she incurred as a result of being shot. She submitted a claim to the defendant’s homeowner’s policy carrier as the shooting occurred on his property. The insurer denied the claim, citing among reasons an exclusion for any injury “arising from a criminal act or omission” committed by an insured person, i.e. the defendant.
The insurer then filed a civil lawsuit against the defendant, seeking a judicial declaration that it was not obliged to cover the woman’s injuries. A trial court rejected this argument, stating the shooting was not a “criminal act” as defined by Georgia law and granted summary judgment to the defendant. The insurer appealed.
The Court of Appeals reversed. The defendant’s reckless conduct plea was an admission “that he committed a crime,” even though technically there was no “adjudication” of his guilt. The fact that both the defendant and the victim claimed the shooting was an accident did not “rebut the fact that [the defendant] admitted to criminal conduct in connection with that incident.” The criminal act exclusion of the homeowner’s policy was therefore applicable to the facts of this case, meaning the insurer was not responsible for covering the victim’s claim.