Intentional Acts And Intoxication

Palo Pinto County insurance lawyers will need to be aware of this case from the Dallas Court of Appeals. It is a 1997, case styled, Wessinger v. Fire Insurance Exchange. Here is some of the relevant information.
Morrison initially sued Wessinger in a Dallas County district court, alleging that Wessinger negligently caused him injury when, in a drunken fit, Wessinger punched Morrison repeatedly in the head. A jury found Wessinger liable and awarded Morrison $127,187 in damages.
Fire Insurance Exchange, Wessinger’s homeowner’s insurance company, then filed this declaratory judgment action challenging coverage for the incident made the basis of Morrison’s original lawsuit.
After answering Wessinger and Morrison’s counterclaim and conducting discovery, Fire Insurance moved for summary judgment arguing that Wessinger’s homeowner’s policy did not cover Wessinger’s conduct for two reasons. First, Wessinger’s actions were not accidental and thus not a covered occurrence under its policy. Second, Morrison’s damages were the result of Wessinger’s intentional conduct and thus a policy exclusion prevented coverage.
Fire Insurance’s summary judgment evidence consists mainly of trial testimony from Morrison’s original lawsuit. Wessinger testifie d he drank six or seven beers before he ate dinner and an equal number after dinner. He admitted that by evening’s end he was drunk. He does not remember much about that evening and what little he does remember comes back in “flashes.” Many portions of the evening he does not recall at all.
While at the bar that evening, Wessinger ran into Morrison and Morrison’s girlfriend, Jackie. As compatriots abroad, Wessinger and Morrison had become friendly and socialized together. Later that evening, Morrison and Jackie invited Wessinger to attend a party with them. Morrison, Jackie, and Wessinger then took a cab to their destination. Once there, they got out of the taxicab and began walking in search of the party’s exact location.
Although at trial he could not recall the exact words spoken, he testified that he exchanged angry words with Morrison and then punched Morrison. Although Wessinger does not remember exactly what happened at that point in the evening, he does not dispute that he hit Morrison. At trial, he admitted that he “[struck] a hard blow and hit [Morrison] in the face.”
Morrison and Jackie testified at trial to different versions of these events. Morrison agreed he became jealous when another man gave Jackie flowers and that, during their taxicab ride, he cautioned her about accepting flowers from strangers. But Morrison claimed that he and Jackie did not fight. Jackie testified she received flowers from a stranger that evening, but did not recall Morrison fighting with her or lecturing her that evening. Morrison and Jackie both agree that while they were standing on the sidewalk, Wessinger attacked Morrison, hitting him in the head several times and knocking him to the ground. Morrison testified at trial that Wessinger hit him several times in the face. Wessinger’s attack caused Morrison’s left retina to detach, leaving permanent injury to his left eye.
As noted already, Wessinger denied a “specific recollection” of the events and his actions because he had been drinking heavily that day. He claimed, however, that he “never intended to hurt or injure Dennis Morrison, and … certainly never intended to cause the significant injuries to his eye, and his effective blindness in his left eye, which resulted from these events.” He also asserted that he “did not intend to hit Dennis Morrison at all.” Instead, he maintained that “it appears that I acted quickly and impulsively, probably as a result of having too much to drink.”
Morrison, too, testified about his subjective impression of Wessinger’s inculpable conduct:
On December 14, 1991, I knew that Michael Wessinger had been drinking, and it was obvious that his drinking was having an effect on him, but I had no reason to believe that he would cause me any harm. In fact, immediately prior to the incident involved in this litigation, Michael Wessinger had appeared friendly and even affectionate toward me. Likewise, immediately after the incident made the basis of this litigation, Michael Wessinger again appeared friendly and as if nothing had happened. In between, it was as if something had snapped, and he was acting entirely out of character. At no time did I notice him having any intent to cause any injury to me; and, I never had any indication he intended to hit me at all. He gave no indication that he was upset or angry; he did not threaten me in any way; I did not provoke him or aggravate him in any way; and, the entire incident came without warning and was entirely unanticipated. Michael Wessinger apologized to me after and told me he never intended to hurt me, that he did not know why he acted as he did, and that he did not remember most of what happened.
According to Wessinger’s homeowner’s policy, coverage exists only for “bodily injury” or “property damage” caused by an “occurrence.” An “occurrence” under the policy is defined as an “accident.” But the policy does not define the term “accident.”
Courts determine whether certain conduct constitutes an “accident” for purposes of insurance coverage on a case-by-case basis.
First, the court determines the specific “acts” alleged to be the cause of the plaintiff’s damages and then whether the acts were “voluntary and intentional.” If the court determines that the acts that produced the alleged injuries were committed involuntarily and unintentionally, then inquiry stops there because the results of the acts would be accidental. But if the court determines the acts were committed voluntarily and intentionally, it must then decide under the Argonaut definition whether the injuries were a “natural result” of the acts.
When a result is not the natural and probable consequence of an act or course of action, it is produced by accidental means. The natural result of an act is the result that ordinarily follows, may be reasonably anticipated, and ought to be expected. This standard is objective. A person is held to intend the natural and probable results of his acts even if he did not subjectively intend or anticipate those consequences.
Wessinger and Morrison argue that Wessinger’s intoxication that evening so impaired his mental faculties that he could not commit a voluntary and intentional act.
The court concluded that Wessinger’s conduct was voluntary and intentional and that Morrison’s injuries naturally resulted from that conduct. Wessinger’s conduct was thus not an accident and, consequently, not a covered occurrence.