Sunday, January 3, 2010

Are Your Child's "Pranks Gone Bad" Covered By Your Insurance?

This case should serve as a warning to all you parents out there: your child's stupid pranks may subject you as parents to personal liability. In a recent Ohio case, some dimwitted high school students stole a target deer and spray painted it with profanities and the words "hit me." It gets worse. They decided to place the deer in the middle of a two lane rural road at the crest of a hill to see what would happen.

Sure enough, a car crested the hill, spotted the "deer," swerved to miss it...and ran the car into a nearby field. The driver and occupant sustained serious injuries. They sued the boys and their parents. The insurance company for the parents filed suit seeking a legal determination that the parents' homeowners policy did not provide liability coverage for the boys' actions or the parents because of an "intentional act" exclusion in the policy. Translated: if the boys as "insureds" under the policy were engaged in an "intentional act" due to their shenanigans with the deer, there was no coverage.

The court of appeals concluded that although the boys' actions in stealing and placing the deer in the roadway were intentional, "the disputed issue here is whether they also intended harm or injury to follow from their intentional act." Now a jury will decide this issue.

This was a close call and the Court's well reasoned decision was based in part on the language of the "intentional act" exclusion. If the policy were worded slightly differently, the Court may have concluded that the exclusion applied, meaning that the boys, and possibly their parents, would be personally liable to the injured occupants of the car.

So here's the take away from all this: remind your kids of this case and use it to educate them of the dangers of a juvenile prank gone bad. And let them know if they do something like this, you as parents could be personally liable for their stupidity.

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