The Connecticut Appellate Court recently affirmed a trial court’s summary judgment holding that an insurance company had no duty to defend or indemnify its insured in a negligence action brought by a women who was stabbed twenty-four times by the insured. The court’s decision was based on the fact that the phrase “physical abuse” contained in a homeowner’s policy exclusion was not ambiguous and did not contain an implicit intentionality requirement, and thus the exclusion applied. Merrimack Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Ramsey, 117 Conn.App. 769 (2009). A copy of the decision is available here.
According to the opinion, a man (the “insured”) was involved in a romantic relationship with a woman who the insured visited as an invited guest in her apartment. The opinion states that, without provocation, the insured began stabbing himself and the woman with a kitchen knife, stabbing the woman (“stabbing victim”) a total of twenty-four times with two knives, and causing her injury. At the time the incident occurred, the man was insured under a homeowner’s policy issued by the plaintiff insurance company to the insured’s parents.
According to the opinion, the stabbing victim filed a negligence action against the insured and alleged in her complaint that the insured suffered from a variety of mental and psychiatric disorders, and at no time during the stabbing did he have an understanding of the nature or wrongfulness of his conduct or intend to cause her bodily injury. The plaintiff insurance company filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that it had no obligation to defend or to indemnify the insured from claims arising from the stabbing victim’s negligence action. The insurer moved for and was awarded summary judgment by the trial court.
The stabbing victim appealed, arguing that the trial court misinterpreted an exclusion in the insured’s homeowner’s policy and improperly granted the insurer’s motion for summary judgment. Specifically, the stabbing victim argued that the exclusion for bodily injury “[a]rising out of sexual molestation, corporal punishment or physical or mental abuse” was ambiguous, and that the undefined term “physical abuse” contained an implicit intentionality requirement. The stabbing victim argued that the trial court improperly failed to consider the insured’s intent when it determined that the exclusion applied, and further argued that the exclusion did not preclude coverage for the victim’s injuries because the insured “did not intend or expect to harm her when he stabbed her twenty-four times with two knives,” as the court summarized.
The Appellate Court concluded that the stabbing victim’s reading of the policy was “plainly unreasonable” because the “exclusion expressly exempts coverage for bodily injury arising out of physical abuse” and “[n]owhere does it provide that a consideration of the abuser’s intent is required.” The Appellate Court further based its decision on the fact that “the policy contains a separate exclusion that applies specifically to intentional acts” and, “[w]hen both exclusions are read together, it is clear that [the physical abuse] exclusion … does not require a consideration of the insured’s intent.” Finally, the Appellate Court concluded that “[t]he only plausible interpretation of the [insured’s] insurance policy is the natural and ordinary one accorded to it by the court in its well reasoned decision.”