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Illinois Farmers Insurance Company v. Rodgers

November 19, 2002

ILLINOIS FARMERS INSURANCE COMPANY, RESPONDENT,
v.
WILLIAM C. RODGERS, AS TRUSTEE FOR THE NEXT-OF-KIN OF DANIEL JUSTIN RODGERS, RESPONDENT (C7-02-425), APPELLANT (C9-02-426), DANIEL ELLIOTT BESSE, APPELLANT (C7-02-425), RESPONDENT (C9-02-426), STEVEN ELLIOTT BESSE, RESPONDENT, ROSALIE ANN BESSE, RESPONDENT.



Dakota County District Court File No. C9-01-7326

Considered and decided by Harten Presiding Judge, Lansing Judge, and Randall Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harten, Judge

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded

OPINION

Respondent insurer sought a declaratory judgment that it had no duty to defend and indemnify its insureds in an underlying wrongful death action because its policy excluded coverage for injury caused by an insured's violation of penal law and for injury caused intentionally by an insured. The district court found that coverage was barred by the exclusion for injury resulting from violation of penal law and granted summary judgment for the insurer. Because we conclude that the application of that exclusion was not within the reasonable expectations of the insured, we reverse the summary judgment. But because we agree with the district court's finding that a genuine issue of material fact exists with regard to the insured's intent, we affirm the denial of summary judgment on the basis of the intentional acts exclusion.

FACTS

On 17 October 1997, Daniel Elliot Besse (Besse), then 17, Daniel Rodgers (Rodgers), then 17, and Justin Chlan (Chlan), then 13, were hunting near Buffalo, Minnesota. Both Rodgers and Besse had shotguns. The boys sat down to rest on a hillside near a pond. Besse was facing the pond with his back against a rock; the butt of his gun rested on the ground and the barrel lay across his lap.

Rodgers stood up to urinate into the pond. Besse and Chlan were five to ten feet from each other and approximately ten feet behind Rodgers. Besse was holding a lit cigarette. He said to Chlan, "Hey, look at this. I'll flick a cigarette at him." Rodgers said, "You flick a cigarette at me, I'll turn around and [urinate] on you." Besse flicked the cigarette, and Rodgers turned around. When Besse attempted to move, his gun discharged; the shot hit Rodgers in the abdomen. Rodgers later died from his wound.

Besse was prosecuted and convicted of second-degree manslaughter, and William Rodgers, as trustee for Rodgers's next of kind, brought a wrongful death action against him. Besse was covered under his parents' homeowner's insurance policy with respondent Illinois Farmers Insurance Co. (Farmers). The policy excluded coverage for injury resulting from an insured's violation of penal law and for injury caused intentionally by the insured.

After defending Besse while reserving its rights, Farmers brought this action seeking a declaration that the exclusions applied and eliminated its duty to defend or indemnify. The district court granted summary judgment on the basis of the violation of penal law exclusion and also denied summary judgment after finding a genuine issue of material fact with regard to the intentional acts exclusion.

Both the Besses and Rodgers appealed from the summary judgment; their appeals were consolidated. Farmers filed a notice of review of the denial of its motion for summary judgment based on the intentional acts exclusion.

DECISION

Construction of an insurance policy involves a question of law. Iowa Kemper Ins. Co. v. Stone, 269 N.W.2d 885, 886-87 (Minn. 1978). Insurance contract exclusions are construed strictly against the insurer. Am. Family Ins. Co. v. Walser, 628 N.W.2d 605, 613 (Minn. 2001); SCSC Corp. v. Allied Mut. Ins. Co., 536 N.W.2d 305, 314 (Minn. 1995). An insured's reasonable expectation of coverage is a question of law to ...


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