The Ramifications Of Recent Court Filing Regarding Homeowners Insurance
A Georgia homeowner's insurance company has asked a Bibb County Superior Court judge for guidance relating to the company's responsibility to indemnify the owner for shooting another. The Telegraph is reporting that the company filed a complaint in Bibb County Superior Court seeking declaratory relief on the issue. The judge's decision could have wide-ranging implications and open the door for indemnification to homeowner's for their criminal behavior despite contractual language that excludes coverage for criminal acts. We will watch the developments in this case closely as it plays out in court because of its significance.
On January 16, 2017, a woman from Macon opened fire on a teenage boy who threw rocks at her home. Three teens were terrorizing the woman and her husband, according to the woman's statement. According to her, the three teens had been terrorizing the couple for about one week by throwing rocks at her house and car, using racial slurs, and threatening her and her husband. She called the police to report the incidents. The police warned the teens about their behavior and instructed them not to go near the house. On January 16, the woman stated she went outside to check the tire pressure in a car, and the group threw rocks at her. At that point, the woman removed a .38 caliber firearm from her pocket and fired. The woman's lawyer said that she fired about five times and intended to fire into the ground. Unfortunately, one round she fired struck the 15-year-old boy in the head. The woman ran after the boys and called 911. She found the wounded boy about 30 feet from the end of her driveway.
As a result of the incident, the Macon Police charged the woman with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of aggravated battery for her actions in the incident. The woman remains held in the Bibb County jail for failure to post bond. The indictments handed up by the Bibb County grand jury alleged that the woman she shot the 15-year old in the head and shot at another. The indictments further allege that she "maliciously caused bodily harm" to the teenager who cannot walk as a result of his wounds. At the woman's bond hearing, the mother of the teenage victim spoke. She told the court that her son, although he survived the shooting, cannot speak and has been rendered an infant by the callous and reckless acts of the homeowner.
The victim and his mother have filed a claim seeking unspecified damages for the teenager's injury. The homeowner has a $300,000 liability limit on the home. Her insurance company filed the complaint for declaratory relief and asked the court to rule that the insurance company has no responsibility to provide coverage for the homeowner. The insurance company has also asked the court to find that there is no duty to defend the woman if the victim sues her for damages. The insurance company alleged in its complaint that the company has no obligation to provide coverage in this situation because the language contained in the insurance contract specifically excludes coverage for criminal acts.
This case bears watching for a number of reasons. While it is true that the typical homeowner's contract excludes coverage for criminal acts, the woman has been charged but not convicted. If a jury acquits her by finding she acted in self-defense (which appears to be the posture the defense is taking), then there is no crime. Must the insurance company cover then? Perhaps there is insufficient information for the judge to rule. Only time will tell. However, the issues decided in this case can affect injured victims, homeowners, and insurance companies.
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