Emotional Distress And Bodily Injury

Knowing what is covered and what is not covered under a policy is something Fort Worth insurance lawyers need to be able to discuss with clients. A 1994, United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals case is instructive as to when emotional distress is a covered claim. The style of the case is Travelers Indemnity Company v. Holloway. It is a declaratory judgement action.
In this lawsuit, the insurance company, Travelers, contended that it had no duty to defend its insured, Wanda Holloway, against a lawsuit for intentional infliction of emotional distress, since this type of claim is not covered by the policy issued by Travelers. Holloway is the mother of a junior high school student who was competing for a cheerleader position, and allegedly plotted to kill Heath, the mother of one of her daughter’s competitors. The mother of the competitor brought a lawsuit against Holloway alleging “outrageous conduct causing severe emotional distress.” Holloway sought a defense from Travelers, however, Travelers argued that Holloway was not entitled to a defense and that there was no coverage, since (1) the conduct did not constitute an “occurrence” under the policy, (2) the conduct was excluded from coverage as intentional conduct, and (3) the conduct was not alleged to have caused “bodily injury” as that is defined in the policy.
In making its ruling, the 5th Circuit affirmed the District Court’s opinion that there was no duty to defend or coverage since there was no allegation or evidence of a bodily injury.
In this holding, the 5th Circuit relied upon the following language defining bodily injury in the policy:
The term ‘bodily injury’ means bodily injury, sickness or disease, including death resulting therefrom, sustained by any person.
The Court acknowledged that in order to determine whether Travelers had a duty to defend, the Facts alleged in the lawsuit had to be examined to see whether they fall within the language of the policy. The Second Amended Complaint in this lawsuit contained only allegations of “extreme pain, suffering, emotional anguish, and emotional trauma and allegations that Holloway “infringed” on the Heaths’ “rights” and that they suffered “severe emotional distress.”
The 5th Circuit noted that Texas law had not yet decided the issue of whether “bodily injury” as defined by insurance policies refers to emotional injury in such situations.
The 5th Circuit held that the policy’s definition of “bodily injury” unambiguously excluded the types of nonphysical injuries asserted by the Heaths. The 5th Circuit then noted that this holding was like similar holding with the “overwhelming weight of authority from other states.”
Being able to discuss these issues with a knowledgeable insurance lawyer is necessary in order to be able to calculate the best strategic way to approach filing a lawsuit.