When ‘Accident’ Is Defined By Artful Pleading

The majority of a closely divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court yesterday accepted artful pleading to describe the shooting of a boyfriend using terms like “negligent” and “careless” to determine the duty to defend under a homeowner’s policy issued by Erie. Erie Ins. Exchange v. Moore, No. 20 WAP 2018, 2020 WL 1932642 (Pa. April 22, 2020). An estranged husband intentionally killed his wife and, before committing suicide, was confronted by his wife’s boyfriend, with whom he fought and struggled before shooting him in the face. The complaint artfully alleged that the discharge of the firearm was “negligent.” Distinguishing prior precedent such as Mutual Benefit Ins. Co. v. Haver, 725 A.2d 743, 747 (Pa. 1999)(pharmacist providing controlled substance without a prescription not an “accident” despite use of negligence language in complaint) and American National Property and Casualty Co. v. Hearn, 93 A.3d 880 (Pa.Super. 2014) (allegations that insured struck friend on purpose during a game not an “accident” despite references in complaint to “negligent” conduct), the majority asserted that the facts construed liberally made out an accidental shooting, rejecting the assertion that the pleading was artful. The majority stated that “the complaint’s allegations do not preclude the possibility of McCutcheon accidentally shot Carly.” In dissent, Justice Mundy, joined by Justices Saylor and Todd, rejected the majority’s interpretation, finding that the allegations in the complaint made out a non-fortuitous and purposeful act, siding with the trial court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Majority and Dissenting Opinions can be viewed here: Majority Opinion & Dissenting Opinion

Recent Insights