Criminal Acts Exclusion Precluded Coverage for Homeowner Who Shot Boy

June 21, 2016 | Insurance Coverage

An appellate court in Kentucky, affirming a trial court’s decision, has ruled that the criminal acts exclusion in a homeowner’s insurance policy precluded coverage for claims that the insured homeowner shot a boy in front of his home after brandishing a loaded shotgun.


A homeowner shot a 12-year-old boy in front of his home after the boy and his friends played a game where they rang doorbells and ran away before the occupants answered.

The homeowner was indicted on charges of assault in the first degree, wanton endangerment, and tampering with physical evidence. He later pleaded guilty to various crimes pursuant to a plea agreement that stated:

I wish to plead “GUILTY” in reliance on the attached “Commonwealth’s Offer on a Plea of Guilty.” In so pleading, I do not admit guilt, but I believe the evidence against me strongly indicates guilt and my interests are best served by a guilty plea.

The homeowner sought coverage for the incident under a homeowner’s insurance policy issued by Nationwide Insurance Company. The insurer filed a declaratory judgment action to determine the existence, if any, of insurance coverage under the policy for the shooting.

The trial court concluded that no coverage existed under the policy and granted summary judgment in favor of Nationwide.

The dispute reached an appellate court in Kentucky.

The Kentucky Appeals Court Decision

The appellate court affirmed.

In its decision, the appellate court explained that the policy’s criminal acts exclusion applied to an act or omission that was “criminal in nature” such that it constituted a felony or misdemeanor under Kentucky’s Penal Code.

The appellate court observed that the homeowner had been accused of, and had pleaded guilty to, wanton endangerment in the first degree, a Class D felony. It said that although the homeowner denied that he intended to harm the boy, he admitted to intentionally brandishing his shotgun while in striking distance of the boy. Additionally, the appellate court continued, the homeowner had admitted (at least implicitly) that he had known that his gun had been loaded.

The appellate court concluded that the homeowner could not have reasonably expected insurance coverage to apply to his “unquestionably unlawful and felonious” conduct and, therefore, that the policy’s criminal acts exclusion applied to preclude coverage.

The case is Eberle v. Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co., No. 2013-CA-000898-MR (Ky. Ct. App. May 6, 2016).

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  • Robert Tugander

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