John S. Keck went to the home of his ex-girlfriend Karen Adams to demand she choose between him and her new boyfriend Andrew Slentz. Adams chose Slentz.
Keck left and returned 30 minutes later with a rifle. He shot at Adams several times from close range, wounding her. Then he chased Slentz and eventually shot him. Keck then killed himself.
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Adams and Slentz sued Keck’s estate, along with Continental Insurance Co. with whom Keck had a homeowner’s insurance policy. Keck’s estate settled. Continental then sued for a declaratory judgment, asking the court to decide if the company is liable to Adams and Slentz under Keck’s homeowner’s insurance policy.
Continental submitted its policy, which says the insurer is not liable for intentional acts even if the insured person lacks the mental capacity to govern his or her conduct. The policy also says this exclusion applies whether the insured is charged with or convicted of a crime.
If you were the judge, would you order Continental Insurance Co. to pay damages to Adams and Slentz for their injuries?
The judge said no!
“Here, the evidence as to Keck’s actions was uncontroverted. There was no question of material fact as to whether Keck acted intentionally when he retrieved the rifle, returned to Adam’s home, and shot both Adams and Slentz at close range,” the judge explained.
“A claim that the shooting was somehow unintentional would be unsound,” he continued.
“The insurance policy’s plain language unambiguously precludes coverage for losses incurred through an insured’s intentional act, even if the insured lacks the mental capacity to govern his own conduct,” the judge emphasized.
Homeowner’s insurance policy clauses limiting liability to unintentional acts, irrespective of mental capacity, have long been enforceable, the judge ruled. Therefore, Continental Insurance Co. has no liability to Adams and Slentz for the intentional shootings by Keck, the judge concluded.
Based on the 2006 U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Continental Insurance Co. v. Adams, 438 Fed.3d 538.
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