Skip Navigation Links.
Collapse IRMI OnlineIRMI Online
Expand How To Use IRMI OnlineHow To Use IRMI Online
My Paid Publications
Expand What's NewWhat's New
Expand DashboardsDashboards
Expand Commercial Liability InformationCommercial Liability Information
Expand Commercial Property InformationCommercial Property Information
Expand Commercial Auto InformationCommercial Auto Information
Expand D&O, PL, E&O, EPLI InformationD&O, PL, E&O, EPLI Information
Expand Workers Compensation InformationWorkers Compensation Information
Classifications and Cross-References
Expand Risk Mgt. and Multiline InformationRisk Mgt. and Multiline Information
Expand Risk Finance InformationRisk Finance Information
Expand Construction InformationConstruction Information
Expand Personal Lines InformationPersonal Lines Information
Collapse Claims, Caselaw, LegalClaims, Caselaw, Legal
Expand Insurance Law EssentialsInsurance Law Essentials
Expand 50 Insurance Cases Every Self-Respecting Attorney or Risk Professional Should Know50 Insurance Cases Every Self-Respecting Attorney or Risk Professional Should Know
Expand 50 Reinsurance Cases Every Risk Professional Should Know50 Reinsurance Cases Every Risk Professional Should Know
Collapse Free Claims, Caselaw & Legal CommentaryFree Claims, Caselaw & Legal Commentary
Expand Claims ManagementClaims Management
Expand Claims PracticesClaims Practices
Collapse Courts and CoverageCourts and Coverage
First-Party Insurance and Anti-Technicality Statutes (May 2015)
Burden of Proof in Coverage Litigation (Part 5) (October 2014)
Burden of Proof in Coverage Litigation (Part 4) (July 2014)
Burden of Proof in Coverage Litigation (Part 3) (April 2014)
Burden of Proof in Coverage Litigation (Part 2) (January 2014)
Burden of Proof in Coverage Litigation (October 2013)
Named Driver Policies (July 2013)
Courts Address the Contractual Liability Exclusion—How Far Does It Go? (April 2013)
Taking and Defending the Adjuster's Deposition (Part 4) (February 2013)
Taking and Defending the Adjuster's Deposition (Part 3) (January 2013)
Taking and Defending the Adjuster's Deposition (Part 2) (January 2013)
Taking and Defending an Adjuster's Deposition (Part 1) (June 2012)
Trial of the Coverage Case (Part 4) (December 2011)
DOI Certificate Bulletins May Conflict with State Law (October 2011)
Trial of the Coverage Case (Part 3) (October 2011)
DOI Certificate Bulletins Are Not "Regulations" (September 2011)
Trial of the Coverage Case (Part 2) (August 2011)
Additional Insured Endorsement Should Cover a Tenant's "Operations" (May 2011)
Trial of the Coverage Case (Part 1) (April 2011)
Distinguishing between the Exclusions (February 2011)
Appraisal under the Homeowners Policy (October 2010)
Sometimes, Certificate Disclaimers Help (September 2010)
Watch Indiscriminate Follow-Form Provisions (August 2010)
Duty To Cooperate (August 2010)
Check the Address When Reporting Claims (June 2010)
Defuse Anger To Secure an Insured’s Cooperation (May 2010)
Lay a Foundation for Equitable Contribution (May 2010)
Correcting Mistakes in Additional Insured Endorsements (April 2010)
Only Defense Costs Paid by Named Insured Satisfy the Self-Insured Retention (March 2010)
Exploring New Ground in Personal Auto Policies (February 2010)
Coverage Triggers and Duty-To-Defend Dilemmas (October 2009)
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage and Anti-Stacking Provisions (August 2009)
Recent Texas Cases Involving First-Party Claims (May 2009)
Hurricane Ike and First-Party Litigation (April 2009)
Underinsured Motorist Insurance: Prerequisites before Coverage Applied (January 2009)
Injury-in-Fact Coverage Trigger—HO Policy View (October 2008)
Event Data Recorders: Balancing the Benefits and Drawbacks (August 2008)
No Insurance Coverage for "Actual Physical Contact" with "Integral Part" of Auto (May 2008)
Trigger Theories in Homeowners Insurance (January 2008)
"Reasonable" Defense Costs in Insurance Disputes (November 2007)
Surface Water Exclusions in the Homeowners Policy (July 2007)
Ensuing Loss Clauses in Homeowners Policies: Confusing but Not Ambiguous (April 2007)
Interpreting the "Physical Contact" Requirement of Uninsured Motorist Coverage in Indirect Contact Cases (February 2007)
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Coverage Disputes and Pending Litigation (July 2006)
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Effect on Claims Handling Procedures (June 2006)
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Effect on Rating and Underwriting (May 2006)
Homeowners Policies and Acts of Self-Defense (January 2006)
Anticipated Legal Wrath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (October 2005)
Who Can Reject Uninsured Motorist and Personal Injury Protection Coverage? (August 2005)
Unmarried Cohabitants Are Not "Members" of the Same "Household" (July 2005)
Coverage Disputes Give Rise to "Independent" Counsel (June 2005)
"Joint Obligations" Homeowners' Provision Didn't Bar Coverage for "Innocent Insured" (March 2005)
Bystander Claims—One Limit or Two? (January 2005)
Is Seller's Failure To Disclose Known Defects to Buyers a Covered "Occurrence"? (January 2005)
"No-Fault" Coverage Insures Injuries Arising Out of the Use of a Vehicle (November 2004)
"Controlled Substance" Exclusion in Homeowners Policy Bars Coverage (September 2004)
The Trend Against Diminished Value Coverage under PAPs (September 2004)
Seventh Circuit Upholds Anti-Stacking Clauses (June 2004)
Subogation Rights Against Personal Auto Uninsured Motorists Coverage (March 2004)
Cell Phone Bans for Drivers: Wise Legislation? (May 2003)
Expand Insurance ArchaeologyInsurance Archaeology
Expand Litigation ManagementLitigation Management
Expand Maritime LawMaritime Law
Expand MediationMediation
Expand Personal Lines ClaimsPersonal Lines Claims
Expand Insurance IndustryInsurance Industry
Expand Glossary of Insurance & Risk Management TermsGlossary of Insurance & Risk Management Terms
Expand SearchSearch
Terms of Use
Privacy Statement
System Requirements

Homeowners Policies and Acts of Self-Defense

January 2006

It is everyone's worst nightmare: an intruder in the home in the middle of the night. Most of us would do whatever is necessary to protect our loved ones and our property from unwelcome strangers, including acts of self-defense that may cause injuries or even death to the uninvited person.

by R. Brent Cooper&Dana Harbin
Cooper & Scully

There are other situations in the home that may also require self-defense, such as arguments among guests or with neighbors, resulting in injuries. In that scenario, and given today's litigious inclinations, it is likely that the injured party or his/her family will bring a legal action seeking damages for the alleged injuries. Are homeowners protected by homeowners liability insurance for damages that result from the homeowners' acts of self-defense?

Homeowners liability policies contain a provision that excludes coverage for injury or damage caused intentionally by or at the direction of the insured, often referred to by the courts as the "intentional injury exclusion." The courts of various jurisdictions are equally split as to whether injuries committed in self-defense are intentional and expected and thereby excluded by the intentional injury exclusion in the homeowners liability policy.1

New York Rules on Wrongful Death and Self-Defense

The most recent case addressing this issue is Automobile Insurance Company of Hartford v. Alfred S. Cook, 21 A.D. 3d 1155, 801 N.Y.S. 2d 837 (September 15, 2005), from the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department. The New York court was faced with the legal question of whether the homeowners insurance policy covered the insured in a lawsuit for wrongful death when the insured killed a person in self-defense. Alfred Cook, the insured, shot and killed Richard Barber after a disagreement over a business arrangement. Barber entered Cook's home without permission and, during their discussions, Cook retrieved his shotgun. Barber refused to leave Cook's home, attacked and injured Cook, and then the fatal confrontation occurred.

Cook was acquitted of multiple indictments, including murder in the second degree, based on self-defense. Thereafter, the administrator of Barber's estate brought a wrongful death action against Cook, and Cook sought coverage under his homeowners insurance policy issued by AIC.

The New York appellate court first held that the act of shooting another person, even when done in self-defense, is not a covered "occurrence" because the act could not be characterized as accidental, even in the face of allegations of negligence. Though unnecessary for the ruling, the court next examined whether Cook's acts fell within the policy's exclusion for bodily injury which is "expected or intended." The court reasoned that the intentional injury exclusion is designed to reinforce the liability policy's coverage clause by reiterating that the bodily injury or property damage must flow from an accident and not be the expected result of intentional conduct. Id. at 840. In that regard, evidence that Cook intended to injure, but not necessarily kill Barber, was enough to trigger application of the intentional injury exclusion.

Other Courts Examine Intentional Injury

Other jurisdictions have ruled the same in finding that the intentional injury exclusion in the homeowners liability policy applies to injuries that are the result of acts committed in self-defense. See i.e.,:

  • Aetna Cas. and Sur. Co. v. Griss, 568 S.2d 903 (Fla. 1990) (use of deadly force in self-defense constitutes intentional conduct causing harm to another within exclusionary provision of homeowners policy);

  • Eubanks v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 195 Ga. App. 359, 393 S.E.2d 452 (1990) (where insured, who was insane, shot and killed victim under apparent delusional misperception of self-defense, neither his insanity nor the fact that he was, or thought he was, acting in self-defense negated intent as matter of law, for purposes of intentional acts exclusion of homeowners policy; rather, evidence of insanity and self-defense entitled insured to jury determination as to whether insanity or self-defense negated insured's intent to injure victims at time of shooting);

  • Home Ins. Co. v. Neilsen, 165 Ind. App. 445, 332 N.E.2d 240 (1975) (intentional injury exclusion applied to insured's conduct of striking neighbor in face in self-defense);

  • Century Mut. Ins. Co. v. Paddock, 168 Mich. App. 747, 425 N.W.2d 214 (1988) (injuries to victim resulting from actions of insured and his son in kicking victim for 2 minutes after victim had fallen to ground were not covered by homeowners liability policy since (1) injuries were not brought about by "accident," but were foreseeable result of kicking, notwithstanding insured's contention that he and his son acted involuntarily in defending themselves, and (2) kicking after victims were no longer a threat was unnecessary for self-defense, and even if done in self-defense, fell within express exclusion for intentional acts);

  • Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Mitchell by & Through Seymour, 911 F. Supp. 230 (S.D. Miss. 1995) (insured's attack on victim in defense of insured's mother was not excepted from intentional injury exclusion in homeowners policy);

  • Economy Fire & Casualty Co. v. Iverson, 445 N.W.2d 824 (Minn. 1989) (homeowners policy containing exclusion for actions "intended or expected by the insured" owed duty to defend insured when underlying tort action based on shooting victim's complaint alleging negligence, intentional assault and loss of consortium; thus, insurer was required to pay legal costs incurred by insured in defending tort action up to time that action was settled; however, insurer had no obligation to indemnify insured in connection with settlement agreement reached in underlying tort action between insured and shooting victim, in which agreement insured admitted negligence, where jury finding of self-defense extinguished liability on part of insured).

Of course, there are just as many courts that have held that self-defense is an exception to the intentional injury exclusion in the homeowners liability policy. These courts take the position that an injury resulting from an act committed by an insured in self-defense is not an expected or intended injury pursuant to the intentional injury exclusion clause in the homeowners liability insurance policy. Some courts view the intentional injury exclusion as designed to apply only to misconduct or wrongful acts. See:

  • Walters v. American Ins. Co., 185 Cal. App. 2d 776, 8 Cal. Rptr. 665 (1st Dist. 1960) (injury was not "intentional" under the provisions of a comprehensive personal liability endorsement in an automobile liability policy containing a clause excluding injuries "caused intentionally by or at the direction of the insured"; court held that an element of wrongfulness or misconduct is connoted by the intentional injury exclusion and self-defense does not involve misconduct, so not excluded);

  • Deakyne v. Selective Ins. Co. of America, 728 A.2d 569 (Del. Super. Ct. 1997) (evidence that the insured spotted trespassers on deck of home late at night, confronted them in attempt to protect family, and struck trespasser with broken bottle only after suffering injury by him created jury question whether the insured was acting in self-defense or was subject to exclusion of liability coverage for expected or intended injuries);

  • Blosser v. Sentry Indem. Co., 541 So. 2d 1370 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4th Dist. 1989) (exclusion contained in homeowners policy for bodily injury or property damage which was expected or intended by insured did not, as matter of law, constitute bar to coverage for act of self-defense, and trial court erred in granting summary judgment where record revealed genuine disputed facts regarding self-defense claim);

  • Western Fire Ins. Co. v Persons, 393 N.W.2d 234 (Minn. App. 1986) (held that trial court erred in failing to instruct jury on self-defense as possible bar to application of intentional tort exclusion of homeowners liability policy).

The "Reasonable Force" Exception

As with all coverage disputes, the determination of whether the intentional injury exclusion applies to injuries caused by acts of self-defense depends on the exact wording of the exclusion and the policy as a whole. Some liability policies include an exception to the intentional injury exclusion for "bodily injury resulting from the use of reasonable force to protect persons or property." If the exclusion includes this exception, or one similar, the intentional injury exclusion will not apply to circumstances where the insured uses reasonable force in defending himself, others, or property. See Glover v. Allstate Ins. Co., 229 Ga. App. 235, 493 S.E.2d 612 (1997) (exclusion in family liability provisions of homeowners insurance policy, excluding damage for bodily injury or property damage resulting from any willful act or omission that is a crime unless such act or omission was for the preservation of life or property, applied to preclude coverage for shooting of innocent bystander by homeowners' child who fired gun in attempt to apprehend individuals who had assaulted him while trying to steal his vehicle).

Dana Harbin is an attorney in the Dallas office of Cooper & Scully, P.C. where she specializes in insurance coverage and bad faith involving all types of insurance policies, both first and third party. Ms. Harbin earned her BA degree from the University of Texas in Arlington and her JD degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She can be reached at .

1This is not an exhaustive annotation of cases that interpret the intentional injury exclusion in the context of self-defense, but merely a sampling for purposes of showing the split in jurisdictions.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

© 2000-2015 International Risk Management Institute, Inc. (IRMI). All rights reserved.