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Assault turns deadly

Assault turns deadly

June 24
08:10 2020

Assault turns deadly

In April 2016, Amy Joyner-Francis suffered sudden cardiac death after she was assaulted by Trinity Carr in their high school bathroom. Joyner-Francis’s autopsy revealed that she had a “large atrial septal defect and pulmonary hypertension,” which, in addition to the emotional and physical stress from the fight, caused her heart failure.

After Carr’s criminal prosecution, two civil lawsuits were filed in Superior Court by Joyner-Francis’s estate and by her parents. Carr demanded a defense and indemnification from USAA Casualty Insurance Company, which had a homeowners policy that covered Carr’s mother and potentially Carr as a resident relative. In response, USAA sought a declaratory judgment that it did not have to cover Carr’s defense or indemnify her losses. USAA moved for summary judgment, which Carr opposed. The Superior Court denied USAA’s motion, took Carr’s opposition to the summary judgment motion as a cross-motion for summary judgment, and granted that cross-motion. USAA appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Delaware.

On appeal, USAA argued that the policy did not cover Carr’s litigation defense or litigation liabilities because Joyner-Francis’s bodily injury—death—was not caused by an “accident,” as required for coverage under the coverage clause. Alternatively, it argued that, even if Joyner-Francis’s death was caused by an “accident,” coverage was not available because of the exclusion clause.

The policy excluded coverage for bodily injury “which is reasonably expected or intended by an insured even if the resulting bodily injury … is of a different kind, quality[,] or degree than initially expected or intended.”

Carr argued that whether an incident is an “accident” must be determined from the perspective of the victim—that is, if the victim did not expect or foresee the incident and injury, it is an accident from the victim’s perspective. According to Carr, Joyner-Francis did not expect or foresee her death, so her death must be an accident that was covered by the policy. But Carr’s argument was actually about the extent of the injury—death, as opposed to minor bruising. The coverage clause provided that the bodily injury—in this case, Joyner-Francis’s death—must be caused by an accident, not that the nature or extent of the injury itself must be an accident. Thus, even from Joyner-Francis’s viewpoint, the question was whether the events that caused her death were accidental, not whether the death itself was an accident.

Because the Supreme Court agreed with USAA that Joyner-Francis’s death was not caused by an accident, and even if it were, it would be excluded under the exclusion clause, it reversed the Superior Court’s judgment and remanded the case for entry of judgment consistent with its opinion.

USAA Casualty Insurance Company v.Carr—Supreme Court of Delaware—January 29, 2020—No. 273, 2019.

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