The Intentional Act Exclusion
The intentional injury exclusion or intentional act exclusion is sometimes relied upon by insurance companies to deny personal injury claims. Personal automobile policies are intended to provide the policy holder with protection against unforeseen occurrences; accidents. It is common for personal automobile insurance policies to include an intentional injury exclusion with wording similar to this: we will not provide liability coverage to a policy holder who intentionally causes damage or injury.
An automobile accident is generally considered to be an unplanned, unintended, unexpected occurrence that causes damage and/or personal injury. The key here is unintended. For example, a hurried driver may fail to stop for a stop sign. While he may have intended to run the stop sign, he did so because he thought he could do safely; he did not see the lone vehicle traveling on the intersecting road and certainly did not mean to collide with it, but does. It may have been foreseeable that he would have hit someone by disregarding the stop sign, but that does not mean that it was an intentional act. Therefore, the collision can be considered an accident. He did not mean to cause damage or personal injury, so the victim of his negligence is not barred from recovery.
Another case might involve a driver who swerved to hit an animal in the roadway; he intended to strike the animal, but did not intend for it to be thrown into the air to strike and injure a pedestrian. The intentional act exclusion cannot be applied to the personal injury claim: the pedestrian would be able to pursue a claim for his personal injury against the driver’s insurance policy even though the initial event was an intentional one.
Even cases where a collision can be anticipated or even expected, the intentional injury exclusion may be thwarted if the tort-feasor can testify that he did not intend the injury. An example might be a scenario in which one driver rams another to prevent him from leaving a scene; he intended to hit the vehicle and perhaps even damage it, and perhaps even intended to injure the driver but not the passengers he did not see sitting in the back seat.
Other factors to consider when determining whether an automobile collision might be considered an intentional act or not:
Mental illness: does the tort-feasor possess the mental capacity to act rationally (is he capable of understanding that his act could harm others).
Medical condition: a tort-feasor may have been driving under the influence of a medication (or not as in the case of a diabetic who failed to take his insulin) that he was told would affect his driving.
Intoxication: voluntary intoxication may or may not prevent the tort-feasor from forming the intent to injure another person.
The majority of states will allow the intentional injury or intentional act exclusion to be applied with the at-fault driver’s point of view in mind: if the at-fault driver intended to injure the other person, he may be denied. A few states look at the exclusion from the point of view of the person who suffered the personal injury: even if the tort-feasor intended to hurt his victim, the victim may still be able to make a claim if he did not expect his injuries.
The financial responsibility laws of the state in which the injury occurred will need to be considered and an attorney who is well-versed in cases involving intentional injury or intentional act exclusions should be consulted; preferably one who is an experienced litigator.
This article is written for informational purposes and is not intended to take the place of competent local legal counsel.
Other articles about liability or negligence issues:
Assumed Risk Explained
An Explanation of the Boulevard Rule
Comparative Negligence Laws Explained
Contributory Negligence Laws Explained
An Explanation of Joint and Several Liability
The Last Clear Chance Rule
Your Responsibility to Mitigate Your Damages
The Issue of Negligent Entrustment
The Black Box in Your Vehicle
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