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AutoClub was provide coverage for homeowners after accidental shooting

Jason Evans moved in to care for his mother after she became bed-ridden with multiple sclerosis. Evans was a convicted felon who was not allowed to own a handgun.  Nevertheless, he had purchased one and was showing it to a guest in 2006 when it discharged and wounded her in the chest.  Forensic work supported Evans' claim that the gun discharged as he was attempting to eject the magazine, with the bullet first striking a kitchen counter and then ricocheting into the guest, Wooten.  Wooten sued both Evans' and their homeowners insurance, the Auto Club, sought a declaratory judgment that it was not required to defend the claim.

Even though the incident was clearly an "accident" or "occurrence" as defined by the policy, the Auto Club joined the ranks of Michigan insurers attempting to avoid liability coverage by relying upon an exclusion for acts of a "criminal nature."  The Court rejected Auto Club's effort and required it to defend the Evans'.  The Court emphasized the fact that there was no evidence to dispute the accidental nature of the shooting, and pointed out that Jason Evan's illegal act in purchasing the gun was only tenuously related to the cause of the incident. 

Given that most "negligent" acts ostensibly covered by liability policies are in some manner criminalized (i.e., "negligent endangerment;" "negligent discharge of a firearm;" etc.) or related to an act that is arguably criminal, it is important that courts draw some line between stupidity that is insured against and deliberate criminal conduct that should not be.  After all, even Justice Taylor, the most activist conservative in the Court's history, recognized that the primary purpose of liability insurance is to protect us and our victims from our own stupidity.  We were glad to see that the Court of Appeals did not punish the victim and the homeowner in this case by assigning a broad interpretation to the Auto Club's criminal acts exclusion.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
Toll Free: 1-800-678-1307
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