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Court interprets insurer's duty after accidental shooting

Liberty Mutual successfully refused to represent its insured after he accidentally shot a guest in his home.  The facts of the case, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co. v. Patrick Stoutenburg, et al., are a little bizarre, to say the least, so this outcome was no surprise.  Nevertheless, the holding is worth reading for Judge Beckering's thoughtful concurrence, explaining the impact of Michigan Supreme Court precedent governing intentional, injurious acts and also the doctrine of judicial estoppel.  Judge Beckering reiterated the two-prong test that must be satisfied in determining whether an insured will have coverage for an "occurrence" that is in the nature of an intentional act.

The judge harkened back to the majority opinion in Frankenmuth Mutual v. Masters, where the high court insisted that "the definition of an accident should be framed from the standpoint of the insured" and his action need not be unintentional. If the insured intended the act which caused injury, the court must then determine whether he either intended the consequences, or "reasonably should have expected [them, given] the direct risk of harm intentionally created."

Addressing the doctrine of judicial estoppel, Beckering noted that the shooter successfully entered a guilty plea founded on an intentional shooting.  That plea resulted in the dismissal of three additional charges.  Since he had successfully invoked a factual scenario involving an intentional shooting in the prior lawsuit, to protect the integrity of the court, the shooter could not be allowed to argue in the next [civil] lawsuit that the weapons discharge was accidental.  While inconsistent pleadings by a party are not barred, if the court has reached a decision in reliance on a party's position and entered judgment, that party cannot take an inconsistent position in subsequent judicial proceedings.

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