A Capehart Scatchard Blog

No Coverage Under Homeowners Policy for Injury Resulting From Punch to Jaw

By on March 18, 2016 in Coverage with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Damon Barley (“Barley”) filed a lawsuit against Steven Quadrel (“Quadrel”) for injuries suffered when Quadrel punched him in the jaw.  Barley sued Quadrel based upon intentional tort and negligence. Quadrel’s parents submitted a notice of claim to Citizens Insurance Company of America (“Citizens”) for coverage under their homeowners policy. Citizens denied coverage. In Barley v. Massachusetts Bay Insurance Company, et al,  2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 547 (App. Div. March 14, 2016), Barley filed suit as Quadrel’s subrogee to obtain coverage under Quadrel’s policy for this injury.

Barley and Quadrel were fellow high school students on the wrestling team. When Quadrel punched Barley, he broke his jaw. Although Quadrel did not intend this precise injury, he never disputed that he intentionally inflicted the blow. Quadrel testified at deposition that he was angry and intended “to make him feel the sting of a punch.”

Initially, Citizens issued a reservation of rights letter. Then, after it investigated, it denied coverage for the claim. Citizens cited to the exclusion in the policy that payments to others do not apply to bodily injury “which is expected or intended by one or more insureds even if the bodily injury … is of a different kind, quality or degree than expected or intended.”

Barley and Quadrel settled their lawsuit pursuant to a consent judgment entered against defendant on the negligence count only for $1 million plus prejudgment interest. The intentional assault count was dismissed with prejudice. Quadrel then assigned all rights to coverage under his policy to plaintiff Barley. Barley then filed this declaratory judgment action against the insurer.

Both plaintiff and defendants moved for summary judgment in the declaratory judgment action. The trial court judge granted the defendant carrier summary judgment, finding that “it’s really uncontroverted that what he did was not a negligent act, but an intentional act of punching the other guy and that’s not covered by the policy.”

The Appellate Division affirmed, agreeing with the trial court judge that the policy did not provide coverage. It pointed out that it was obligated to read the language of the policy in accordance with its plain and ordinary meaning. The court found that this incident did not qualify as an “accident resulting in bodily injury” and, further, that the denial of coverage was supported by the exclusion cited by the carrier.

Note that even though the parties dismissed the intentional assault count, that did not preclude the carrier from denying coverage. In this case, the court looked at the underlying facts of the incident without reference to the parties attempting to bring this matter within coverage of the policy by settling based upon the negligence count and dismissing the intentional act count.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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