Delgado v. Interinsurance Exchange: Analysis of Coverage for Self-Defense

Delgado v. Interinsurance Exchange: Analysis of Coverage for Self-Defense

In her article appearing in the November/December 2009 issue of Coverage, “Delgado v. Interinsurance Exchange: the California Supreme Court Restores Clarity to the Analysis of Coverage for Self-Defense,” Rina Carmel states that over time courts’ analyses of whether policyholders are entitled to coverage for acts of self-defense had become increasingly unclear, resulting in uncertainty for all concerned. Coverage analyses of such cases can be complicated because of several factors, notably:
 
·         Because self-defense essentially consists of assault and battery, it often involves conduct that is to some degree “intended,” so that the underlying complaint against the policyholder may plead intentional or negligent conduct, or both;
·         The allegations may implicate insuring provisions (e.g., for an “occurrence”) as well as exclusions (e.g., for “expected or intended conduct”);
·         Although “occurrences” are not deemed to be intentional conduct, they are not necessarily negligent conduct either;
·         An insurer may have a duty to defend even if it ultimately has no duty to indemnify; and
·         Whether the act or motive of self-defense was intentional is frequently a complicated matter.
         
The author focuses on those five factors in reviewing how several California court decisions wrestled with the coverage of self-defense question. She then examines the August 2009 California Supreme Court decision of Delgado v. Interinsurance Exchange which held that a policyholder’s unreasonable belief in the necessity of taking self-defense measures by assaulting a third party does not convert the assault into an “accident” giving rise to the insurer’s duty to defend. The author asserts that this holding restored clarity to the issue because it “reconfirmed that intentional conduct remains intentional, regardless of the insured’s motive.” The author concludes that “to construe policy provisions regarding intentional acts, insurers must consider acts over motive [and] must look to the insured’s conduct, and not to impermissible factors such as the third-party claimant’s perspective.”