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Intoxicated Sucker Punch Precluded Homeowners Coverage For Bodily Injury

The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently heard the case of Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company v. Ryan Casey and another. The underlying case centers on claims that twice in one evening, after consuming alcohol and marijuana, Ryan Casey attacked Evan Williams without warning, punching and kicking him in the face and causing him serious bodily injury. Williams subsequently filed a claim under Casey’s parents’ Liberty Mutual homeowners’ insurance policy. At his deposition, Casey testified that he “‘intended to touch’ Williams, and that he understood, at least at the time of his deposition, that ‘when you hit somebody with a fist . . . you know you’re going to do some level of injury.’” In response, Liberty Mutual commenced a declaratory action seeking a ruling that it had no duty to defend or to indemnify Casey, or to pay medical expenses for Williams, due to an exclusion in the policy for bodily injury, “which is expected or intended by the insured.” On cross motions for summary judgment, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Liberty Mutual, concluding as a matter of law that Casey expected or intended to cause Williams body injury. The Appeals Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling. 

The Court’s opinion notes that on the evening in question, Casey, then seventeen years old, attended the St. Peter’s fiesta celebration in Gloucester with two friends, Dylan Chaney and Forrest Turner. Prior to arriving at the event, Casey had consumed alcohol and smoked marijuana. At some point while at the event, Casey encountered Williams, also seventeen years old, and the two left on foot in the company of Chaney and Turner, allegedly to go smoke marijuana. After the group arrived at a remote location nearby, Casey "sucker punched" Williams in the face with a closed fist. Casey then punched Williams in the face several more times, kicked him in the face once, and departed with Chaney and Turner, leaving Williams seriously injured on the ground.

Eventually, Williams got to his feet and located the other three nearby. As Williams approached and spoke with Chaney and Turner, Casey separated from the group, came up behind Williams, and again "sucker punched" him in the face with a closed fist, causing additional serious bodily injuries. Casey, Chaney, and Turner then departed for a second time. 

The Appeals Court found that based on Casey’s memory of the events in question, there was no genuine dispute that, notwithstanding Casey’s consumption of alcohol and marijuana, he had the capacity to form the intent and he did intend and plan to hit Williams and, as a matter of law, he expected or intended to cause Williams bodily injury. Furthermore, the Court noted that Liberty Mutual did not have to prove that Casey intended to cause the precise injury that occurred. The Appeals Court referred to a prior case, Worcester Ins. Co. v. Fells Acres Day Sch., Inc., 408 Mass. 393 (1990), in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court explained that “the act of striking another in the face is one which we recognize as an act so certain to cause a particular kind of harm that we can say a person who performed the act intended the resulting harm, and his statement to the contrary does nothing to refute that rule of law.” TheFells Acres case adds that “[r]eason mandates that from the very nature of the act, harm to the injured party must have been intended.” ApplyingFells Acres to the facts in the present case, the Court noted that it was undisputed that Casey’s acts of punching Williams multiple times and kicking him once in the face mandated as a matter of law an inference of intent to cause harm. The Court disagreed with the argument that nevertheless there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Casey’s voluntary consumption of alcohol and marijuana before the attacks prevented him from forming the intent to injure Williams, which would thereby preclude the court from entering summary judgment. 

Following the subject events, Casey was arrested by Gloucester police. Casey told the police that he had lent Williams money approximately one year earlier to purchase marijuana and Williams had not fully paid him back yet. Casey admitted to the police that he planned to hit Williams while the group started walking away from the event to smoke marijuana. Casey also discussed how he snuck up behind Williams the second time to sucker punch him. 

The Appeals Court found that Casey had both a clear motive and a purposeful plan to “solve his problem” with Williams. The Court explained that the plan, even if not thought out far in advance or in great detail, included using sucker punches and repositioning himself in order to make a sneak attack when the opportunity presented itself.

Despite Casey stating at his deposition that he would not have done what he did had he not been intoxicated, the Court found that taken as a whole, Casey’s statements establish that the effects of the alcohol and marijuana, acting in combination with his preexisting anger at Williams, led to the attacks. The Court added that even though Casey was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, he was by his own admission not so significantly under the influence or “out of control” that he lost the capacity to plan and to act effectively on that plan.

In short, the Court noted that proof that the insured had the capacity to form and did form an intent to do an act, where the nature of that act mandates an inference of intent to injure, suffices to prove the insured’s intent to injure. Additional proof of the insured’s capacity to form that intent to injure is not required. 

Based on the above, the Court held that Casey must be held as a matter of law to have expected or intended to cause Williams some bodily injury and therefore Liberty Mutual had no duty to defend or to indemnify Casey or to pay medical expenses for Williams due to the exclusion in the policy for bodily injury “which is expected or intended by the insured.”

If you have any questions about this case or how it may affect you, please do not hesitate to contact us.