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Sexual Assault Not an “Occurrence” in Duty to Defend Case

Case Study

Sexual Assault Not an “Occurrence” in Duty to Defend Case

May 8, 2013
Jeffrey L. Kingsley

When does an “occurrence” causing bodily injury not fall under an insurer’s coverage? That was the key question in a case in which the Appellate Court reversed the trial court, and ruled our client was not obligated to defend an individual accused of sexual assault.

Brendan T. Fitzpatrickand Jeffrey L. Kingsley, members of Goldberg Segalla’s Global Insurance Services practice group, represented an insurer in the duty to defend case before the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, Second Department. The defendant in the underlying action was insured under a homeowner’s policy issued by the insurer to his parents. The policy provided personal liability coverage for claims made against an insured for damages because of bodily injury caused by an “occurrence,” which it defined as “an accident … which result[ed] in … bodily injury.” The plaintiff in the underlying action alleged bodily injury due to a sexual assault perpetrated by the insured.

The trial court denied the insurer’s motion for summary judgment, but the Appellate Division reversed, declaring that the sexual assault was not an accident within the policy’s definition of an “occurrence.”