The Connecticut Supreme Court recently held in Vermont Mut. Ins. Co. v. Walukiewicz, that the term “accident” as used in a liability policy can reasonably be interpreted to include bodily injury caused by acts of self-defense.
In an underlying negligence action, Kevin Brown alleged that Joseph Walukiewicz caused him bodily injury during an altercation between the two men at the residence of Mr. Brown’s estranged wife. Evidence presented to the jury showed that Walukiewicz forcibly caused Brown to fall down some porch steps and sustained significant injuries to his leg.
Mr. Walukiewicz submitted a claim under his Vermont Mutual homeowner’s insurance policy, which provides coverage for suits against the insured alleging “bodily injury… caused by an…accident,” but excludes from coverage “bodily injury …which is expected or intended by the insured.” In the ensuing declaratory judgment action to determine coverage, Vermont Mutual obtained summary judgment.
On appeal, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed. Noting a split of authority, the Connecticut court joined those other states that utilize a subjective test in analyzing whether injury caused by self-defense may be accidental. The court reasoned that, while the Walukiewicz’s physical acts in defending himself could narrowly be interpreted as intentional, the same acts could also reasonably be interpreted as “instinctive or reactive” and, accordingly, unintentional, depending on the his state of mind. Because the court found both interpretations reasonable, it construed the ambiguity in the term “accident” in favor of the insured. The court also held that the “intended or expected” exclusion was inapplicable, because the language of the exclusion indicated a subjective standard, and was only applicable to bodily injury expected or intended “by the insured.”