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Homeowners Policy Fails to Cover Crowded Concert Assault (PA)

February 26, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania recently determined that an insurer did not owe defense or indemnification to a homeowner who allegedly punched another person while attending a concert.  In<em> <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/State-Farm-Fire-and-Casualty-Company-v-Simone.pdf">State Farm Fire and Casualty Company v Simone,</a></em> the insurance company filed a declaratory judgment action against its insured and moved for judgment on the pleadings, which was granted by the District Court.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The underlying incident occurred when Michael Wain and Charles Joseph Simone separately attended a crowded concert at Key Bank Pavilion in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania.  Simone and a friend of Wain “bumped into” one another which resulted in Simone striking Wain in the face with his fist.  As a result, Wain suffered from numerous fractures and a traumatic brain injury.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">At the time of the fight, Simone was insured by State Farm and sought personal liability coverage under his homeowners policy.  State Farm began a legal defense on Simone’s behalf, subject to a reservation of rights, and later filed a declaratory judgment action.  In the declaratory judgment action, State Farm moved for a judgment on the pleadings arguing that it did not have a duty to defend or indemnify Simone because Wain’s injuries did not allege that his injuries resulted from an “occurrence” as that term is defined in the policy.  Specifically, State Farm asserted that Wain’s injuries were not caused by an “accident” and therefore no recovery existed under the policy.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The State Farm policy provided coverage from damages that result from “bodily injury” caused by an “occurrence.”  The term “occurrence” was defined within the policy as an “accident.”  However, the term “accident” was not defined within the policy.  The District Court relied on relevant case law to determine whether Simone’s alleged assault qualified as an “accident” under the policy.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Ultimately, the District Court determined that Simone’s actions, in punching Wain in the face, clearly qualified as intentional conduct and, specifically, a willful assault.  Furthermore, the District Court addressed the negligence claims, both for Simone breaching his duty to act reasonably and avoid injuring Wain as well as Simone negligently allowing himself to become intoxicated and lose control of his emotions, included in Wain’s complaint.  The District Court noted that the allegations of negligence also contained allegations of intentional conduct and each relied exclusively on and related only to Simone’s alleged actions in punching Wain.  As a result, the District Court granted State Farm’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and held that State Farm did not owe a duty to defend or a duty to indemnify Simone.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Zhanna Dubinsky for her contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:gcoats@wcmlaw.com">Georgia Coats</a> with any questions.</p>

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