Kids Pranks And Homeowners Policies

Graford insurance attorneys will eventually see something that happened in an Eastland Court of Appeals opinion.  It is a 2005 opinion, styled Curb v. Texas Farmers Insurance Company.

A high school sophomore and a friend strung fishing line ankle-high across a courtyard area of the school.  They intended to lure their friends to the area but became distracted and allegedly “forgot” about the fishing line.  The following evening a teacher walked through the area, tripped over the line, was injured in the resulting fall, and then subsequently filed suit against the pranksters.  She was awarded $55,000 in damages “resulting from Defendants’ negligent acts.”  The insurer initially provided a defense but later withdrew it believing the claims were not covered under one prankster’s parent’s homeowner’s policy.  The student filed this suit against his father’s homeowner’s insurer, alleging that the insurer’s refusal to defend the insured in the underlying tort action violated the Texas DTPA and constituted a breach of contract.  The insurer counterclaimed, seeking a declaration that it had no duty to defend or indemnify the insured.  The trail court held that because the underlying suit was based on intentional acts, which were excluded from coverage under the insured’s homeowner’s policy, the insurer’s duty to defend was not triggered.  The court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer and appeal followed.

The Eastland Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that a homeowner’s insurer had no duty to provide coverage for a personal injury lawsuit arising from a misdirected high school prank.  The court addressed the duty to defend under an “eight corners” analysis noting that the petition expressly claimed that the boys “intentionally” strung the fishing line.  While the petition also alleged “negligence,” the court ruled that factual allegations rather than legal theories were the focus in determining whether the duty to defend existed.  Here, “the origin of the damages was the intentional behavior” and not an “accident” and, thus, not an “occurrence” under the policy.  Addressing the duty to indemnify, and despite the underlying negligence finding, the court noted that the actions resulting in the damages were intentional:  “When a result is the natural and probable consequence of an act or course of action, it is not produced by accidental means.  The natural result of an act is the result that ordinarily follows, maybe reasonably anticipated, and ought to be expected.”  Therefore, the insurer had no duty to defend or to indemnify the insured.