The California Supreme Court recently held that an assault and battery allegedly committed in self-defense was not an “accident” and therefore did not meet a CGL policy’s definition of a covered “occurrence.” Delgado v. Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club of S. Cal., No. S155129 (Cal. Aug. 3, 2009).
The insured, Reid, settled with the victim of the assault, Delgado, “stipulating that Reid’s use of force occurred because he negligently believed he was acting in self-defense” and assigning his claims against the insurer to Delgado. Delgado then amended his complaint with the explicit purpose of bringing the claim under Reid’s CGL policy, alleging that Reid’s “reaction to what he perceived was an imminent threat of harm was an overreaction, was not willful or malicious, and was an accident within the meaning of Reid’s insurance policy.”
The California Supreme Court ultimately rebuffed this attempt, in particular rejecting two arguments by Delgado.
First, Delgado argued that the assault was an accident because, from the perspective of the injured party, it was “unexpected, unforeseen, and undesigned.” The Court rejected the idea that the “accidental” nature of an occurrence is judged from the perspective of the injured party, specifically overruling such reasoning in another case cited by Delgado. Rather, the Court held that “the word ‘accident’ in the coverage clause of a liability policy refers to the conduct of the insured for which liability is sought to be imposed on the insured.”
Second, Delgado argued that the insured’s belief in the need for self-defense converted the violent acts into an “accident.” The Court disagreed, holding that an “injury-producing event is not an ‘accident’ within the policy’s coverage language when all of the acts, the manner in which they were done, and the objective accomplished occurred as intended by the actor.” The Court noted that “Reid’s assault and battery on Delgado were acts done with the intent to cause injury” and therefore they “were not as a matter of law accidental.” The Court rejected “the notion that an insured’s mistake of fact or law transforms a knowingly and purposefully inflicted harm into an accidental injury,” citing analogous cases of, for example, rape under the mistaken belief that the victim consented.