Intoxication Not a Defense to Expected or Intended Injury Exclusion, Massachusetts Appellate Court Says

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In Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co. v. Casey, 91 Mass. App. Ct. 243 (Mar. 29, 2017), the Massachusetts Appeals Court held in essence, that the insured (Casey)’s impairment due to alcohol and drugs at the time of the underlying assault did not render the insurance policy’s expected or intended exclusion inapplicable. The undisputed facts established that Casey had the capacity to form the requisite intent to injure the underlying plaintiff.

Seventeen-year-old Casey “sucker punched” Williams, the underlying plaintiff, in the face with a closed fist several times, kicked him in the face, and then left Williams seriously injured on the ground. When Williams finally got to his feet, Casey snuck up behind Williams a second time, “sucker punched” him (again), and left Williams injured on the ground. Notably, before encountering Williams, Casey had consumed at least five alcoholic beverages and smoked marijuana. Williams underwent surgery for his injuries, and Casey pleaded guilty to assault and battery causing serious bodily harm.

At the time, Casey was covered under a homeowner’s insurance policy (through his parents). Notably, the policy excluded “bodily injury” expected or intended by the insured. The insurer filed a declaratory judgment action, seeking a finding that it had no duty to defend or indemnify Casey against Williams’ suit. The superior court granted summary judgment to the insurer, holding that Casey expected or intended to cause Williams “bodily injury.”

On appeal, Casey maintained that his voluntary consumption of alcohol and marijuana before the attacks prevented him from forming the requisite intent to injure Williams. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, holding Casey had both a clear motive and purposeful plan to “solve” his problems with Williams. As such, the marijuana and alcohol did not cause Casey to be so significantly impaired or “out of control” that he was incapable of planning and effectuating his plan. The court found compelling Casey’s admissions that he lent Williams money to purchase marijuana a year prior, Williams never repaid him, and he believed Williams had “robbed” him, which caused him to become “heated” and attack Williams.

Further, the Court of Appeals held Casey’s testimony that “I wouldn’t have done what I did if I wasn’t intoxicated. . . I planned it while intoxicated that night. . . if I wasn’t drunk, I wouldn’t have planned it. . . and [I] lost control” did not create a dispute regarding his intent. Rather, it established that his impairment, combined with his preexisting anger at Williams, caused the attacks. Since Casey admitted that he intended to touch Williams, in combination with his understanding that when you hit someone, injury at some level will come about, his subsequent conclusory statements that he did not intend to injure Williams were insufficient to refute his alleged formation of the requisite intent. And since Casey intended to commit an inherently harmful act, his subjective intent regarding the degree of injury was irrelevant. The court also reasoned that the applicability of the exclusion did not turn on whether Casey knew that his actions constituted an assault. Thus, the Court of Appeals held that Casey must have expected or intended to cause Williams some “bodily injury,” and in turn, Liberty Mutual owed Casey no defense or indemnity.

This decision reminds us that mere intoxication does not overcome the expected or intended injury exclusion.