There are a wide variety of people and entities that may face legal liability in a personal injury case, particularly one that occurs at a public place or on a business property. If the person or business caused an accident through negligence or direct actions, for example, the resulting injuries may be covered under an auto, business, or homeowner’s insurance policy. While insurers are likely to be able to pay out covered claims without much financial strain, they usually fight tooth and nail to limit their liability in these cases. The outcome often depends on the circumstances of the case and the specific terms of the policy at issue, as a federal court in West Virginia recently explained.
Mr. Slusarek was injured in a late night altercation at a Kwik King convenience store. As the court explained, the dispute arose after a Kwik King worker gave Slusarek incorrect change when he purchased cigarettes. The worker wasn’t able to open the register due to store policy and couldn’t find a manager to open it. Mr. Parker, who was shopping at the store at the same point, intervened in the argument that followed. He and Slusarek came to blows, according to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, during which “Parker inflicted serious physical injuries upon Slusarek.”
Slusarek later sued Parker and Kwik King for his injuries. He also named as a defendant State Auto Property and Casualty Insurance Company, which issued the store a business operations insurance policy. He alleged that the incident was covered under that policy and that State Auto was therefore liable.
As the Court later explained, the policy states that it covers certain “occurrences” that take place on the business property. The policy defines the term “occurrence” as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions.” The document further states, however, that it doesn’t apply to personal injuries or property damage incurred for intentional acts that are expected or intended by Kwik King. That includes the “use of reasonable force to protect persons or property.”
Granting summary judgment to State Auto, the District Court held that the incident didn’t qualify as an “occurrence” as defined by the policy. “Slusarek’s injuries were not an accident,” the Court explained. “Parker repeatedly struck Slusarek, and the record indicates that he intentionally and purposefully did so.” As a result, the Court said the incident could not be considered a “chance event.” Instead, according to the Court, the incident fell under the policy’s exception for “intentional actions.”
Based on these findings, the Court said State Auto wasn’t required to take on legal responsibility for Parker’s actions. It is important to note, however, that the Court allowed the claims against Parker and Kwik King to proceed.
If you or a loved one has been injured an accident, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia insurance lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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