When will a homeowner’s policy cover an assault?

Homeowner's liability policies often have criminal acts exclusions. There are some instances however when coverage may apply to compensate a victim injured in an assault at a party.

A homeowner's liability policy generally provides coverage in the case of accidents caused by negligence. But is coverage available if the homeowner's child invites friends over and an assault occurs after an evening of drinking?

Most homeowner's insurance policies do not cover injury or property damage intended or reasonably expected from intentional or criminal acts or omissions of any insured person.

In a Missouri case, a minor died of an overdose after the homeowner provided cocaine. The family of the minor sued the homeowner in a wrongful death lawsuit. The homeowner's insurer argued that an exclusionary clause barred premises liability coverage for expected or intended injury. The court required that the insurer show "not only that the insured intended the acts causing the injury, but that injury was intended or expected from [the] acts." What the insured intended or expected is often up to a jury to decide.

In some cases, there may be an inference of intent to harm under the inferred-intent standard. An example is sexual abuse of a child by the insured. The criminal acts exclusion would generally mean no available coverage because the nature of the act supports an inference of intent to harm.

Intoxication and an assault

Even with the criminal act exclusion, the concurrent cause doctrine could mean the policy provides coverage. When an insured risk and an excluded risk are concurrent proximate causes, a liability insurer must provide coverage as long as one of the causes is covered.

In the case where a homeowner provides a home where young people can drink alcohol without adult supervision, it might be the negligent failure to supervise that allowed the assault to occur. However, that would likely not count as a distinct cause. Without the homeowner allowing the youths to drink unsupervised, there would likely have been no injury.

A plea in a criminal case may conclusively establish there was a criminal act. For example, in one case a homeowner learned from her child that a friend was "having problems" and "didn't look right" after combining alcohol and Xanax. The homeowner advised her child to move the friend from under the coffee table, so he would not break it when he awoke. The friend never woke up. The homeowner later pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and admitted to recklessly causing the death by allowing minors to use alcohol and controlled substances without adult supervision.

To avoid coverage, an insurer would still generally need to show that the injury could have been reasonably expected to occur from the criminal act.

When it is not the homeowner, but a guest who assaults another person there could be coverage available.

These cases are highly fact specific. Following an assault and serious injury at a party there could be compensation available from a homeowner's insurance liability policy. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss the details of what happened and whether a remedy might be available.

Keywords: Homeowner’s liability coverage, personal injury, premises liability, sexual assault