Parents’ Potential Vicarious Liability For Son’s Conduct Creates Duty To Defend

Coverage for the vicarious liability of one insured for another insured’s intentional acts is a fairly common issue in homeowners’ policies.  The question also comes up with Commercial General Liability and other policies, for example, in cases of alleged sexual abuse.  The court in Illinois Farmers Insurance Co. v. Kure, 2006 WL 864368 (Ill. App. Dist. 3 April 3, 2006) reached the usual result.  

In the case, Matthew Kure allegedly used a vehicle his parents provided for him to travel to the home of another young man, Kyle Signorelli.   When he got there, Matthew allegedly picked a fight and threw Kyle to the ground with a "pile driver" move, or head first with the weight of his body on his neck.  As a result Kyle is paralyzed from the neck down, and Kyle and his parents sued Matthew and his parents.  The insurer brought a declaratory relief action seeking a judgment of no coverage, and the parties filed cross-summary judgment motions.  The trial court said the insurance company had no duty to defend Matthew, but did have a duty to defend the parents.

The appellate court agreed.  Because the parents’ potential liability was vicarious only — they allegedly were negligent in failing to control their son and providing him with a car — the harm to Kyle was unintended and unexpected from their standpoint, and therefore was an "occurrence" under their homeowners’ policy.  A key to the analysis was that the policy contained a severability clause, which most policies do, meaning that the liability of each insured must be evaluated separately.  Even though Matthew’s actions were uncovered as acts that caused intentional harm, coverage for his parents could not be precluded because the nature of the harm they allegedly caused was different. 

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