Not Worth the Fight

Sometimes Truth is stranger than Fiction.

Having said that, it’s worth noting that homeowner’s insurance can provide a broad range of coverage.  In one case homeowner’s insurance covered a man who fell out of a tree while trying to lop off some large tree branches.  In another case homeowner’s insurance covered someone who fell through a glass topped table while dancing on it. In yet another case homeowner’s insurance covered a claim that a strand of bamboo in a drainage canal caused serious erosion to the property across the canal. Homeowner’s insurance can cover all kinds of things.  But can homeowner’s insurance cover two ears and a nose?

Homeowners insurance is almost always a good idea.  Most policies carry two kinds of coverage: coverage for the home and its contents, and also general liability coverage for the homeowner.  This general liability coverage won’t usually provide coverage for accidents or losses involving motor vehicles.  That kind of coverage is usually provided by a separate policy of motor vehicle insurance.  But if a covered homeowner is out golfing, and if they unintentionally hit a stray ball over a high fence so that it blasts through a million dollar stained glass window on the front of a mile high cathedral – well, there just might be coverage for that.  The general liability coverage in a homeowner’s policy can often provide coverage for all kinds of general liability where a homeowner might unintentionally cause loss or injury to someone else.  Many homeowners might generally think that this type of general liability coverage might only extend to an injury that occurs on the property – such as somebody walking past the house who steps on a rake, and where the rake flips up and gives them a smack right on the forehead.  Or the population of homeowners at large might think that homeowner’s general liability coverage might only extend to something like the homeowner who digs a trench across their front walkway and front yard to install a pipe, only to have a neighbor step into that trench with disastrous results.  Yes, such accidents might be covered.  But there can also be events off the premises that can be covered.  Some of these might be very simple.  Or some can be more dramatic – like one involving a nose and two ears.

Apparently a lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court in Colorado that resulted in a trial in 1986.  In that case, the plaintiff (or “claimant”) filed a suit against an insurance company who had written a policy of homeowner’s insurance for a defendant.  Apparently the plaintiff had lost his nose and both ears, and had tendered a claim for compensation to the insurance company who had insured the defendant.  The insurance company denied coverage, and the plaintiff sued.  The person who lost their nose and both ears was named Maestas.  The defendant who was insured was named Castro.  In the court’s own words, here is what happened:

“Maestas [the plaintiff] and Castro [the defendant] were occasional drinking buddies who were acquainted through work and softball team activities.  On the night of December 5, 1982, they were drinking and socializing in a bar.  The evening’s events did not remain subdued and tranquil, however.  Epithets were exchanged and fisticuffs ensued.  Maestas and Castro were asked to leave the bar premises.  Round two took place in the parking lot.  Though each claimed the other was the initial aggressor, Maestas lost; his nose and ears were bitten off.

“Before this brawl Castro had hopes of becoming a policeman, but he entered the court system through the other door, so to speak.  He was convicted of criminal assault in the second degree and sentenced to four years imprisonment.”

“On May 3, 1984, Maestas filed a civil complaint against Castro in the state district court.  The complaint sought damages from Castro due to negligence!  One is puzzled by the allegation since at least three bites were required to achieve the damage inflicted.  Arguably such activity could be described as gross negligence, but I think the third bite pretty clearly elevates the activity to an intentional tort, however mindless it might seem.”

Maestas apparently tended a claim to the insurance company for coverage, which was denied.  Maestas then filed suit against the insurance company.  The trial court judge noted that the policy excluded coverage for claims that were “expected or intended by the insured.”  The Court found that biting off the nose and ears of another person required an intentional act (which was expected or intended), and therefore no insurance coverage existed.

As a result, Maestas not only lost the fight; he lost the lawsuit as well.  The case is reported as W. Am. Ins. Co. v. Maesstas, 631 F. Supp. 1565 (D. Colo. 1986).

Homeowner insurance policy coverages can involve complex legal issues.  Persons with coverage questions or issues should consult competent legal counsel.

Copyright 2017 ROBERT B. JACOBS