The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial court and held that an insurer did not have a duty to defend under parents’ homeowners’ policy because coverage for childrens’ act of shooting at passing trucks on a highway was barred by the policy’s intentional acts exclusion. Metropolitan Property and Casualty Ins. Co. v. Buckner, No. E2008-00989-COA-R3-CV (Tenn.App., Apr. 30, 2009).

Two teenagers, ages 15 and 13, armed with two .22 caliber rifles owned by their parents, had been shooting at various objects near their home in Newport, Tennessee. The teens eventually took their shooting to a wooded area near an interstate highway and decided to shoot at passing tractor-trailer trucks. The shots missed the target trucks and, as a result of their activity, one highway motorist was killed and another was seriously injured.

Several lawsuits were brought against the teens and their parents by the victims, their families and others impacted by the shooting. The parents’ homeowners’ insurer brought a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that coverage was barred for the underlying lawsuits by an exclusion in the homeowners’ policy. The policy exclusion barred coverage for “bodily injury or property damage which is reasonably expected or intended by you or which is the result of your intentional and criminal acts.”

A trial court had found that the exclusion did not bar coverage because the teens did not intend the specific bodily injuries that resulted. Although the teens testified that they intended the act of shooting, they did not intend to cause bodily injury to any motorists. Rather, the teens believed, at most, that they would cause minimal property damage, such as small dents, to the targeted trucks. The teens also testified that they did not believe .22 caliber rifles were capable of causing the significant injuries that resulted.

The Appellate Court reversed. Noting the nationwide split among courts regarding the proper interpretation of intentional acts exclusions, the Court held that Tennessee followed the majority of states in finding that “where an intentional act is undertaken with the intention or expectation that harm will result, but harm of a different nature, character or magnitude actually occurs, an intended or expected acts exclusion applies.”

For a complete copy of the opinion, please click here.