No Coverage for Suit Claiming Insured Attacked, Assaulted, Struck, and Stabbed Victim, Even If It Sought Damages for Negligence

June 21, 2017 | Robert Tugander | Insurance Coverage

A federal district court in Illinois has ruled that an insurer was not obligated to defend its insured in an action alleging that he had attacked, assaulted, struck, and stabbed someone, even if the complaint against him asserted that he had been negligent.

The Case

After Connie McElhaney sued Robert Heitbrink, alleging that he had attacked and assaulted William McElhaney, resulting in McElhaney’s death, Heitbrink sought coverage for the suit from his homeowner’s insurer.

The insurer disclaimed coverage, and asked the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois to declare that it had no duty to defend or indemnify Heitbrink. The insurer moved for summary judgment.

The District Court’s Decision

The district court granted the insurer’s motion.

In its decision, the district court explained that the complaint against Heitbrink alleged that he had attacked and assault McElhaney and had repeatedly struck and stabbed him. These alleged actions, the district court ruled, could “not reasonably be called accidental.”

The district court acknowledged that the complaint against Heitbrink asserted negligence, but it said that the “legal labels” used in a complaint were “not dispositive” as to whether a duty to defend existed. The district court said that it looked “not at the legal theory asserted but to the factual allegations” – and that the allegations against Heitbrink did not describe acts that could reasonably be construed as accidental.

After noting that the policies also contained exclusions for expected or intended injuries, the district court concluded that the insurer had no duty to defend or indemnify Heitbrink.

The case is Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. Heitbrink, No. 3:15-CV-03352 (C.D. Ill. May 18, 2017).

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