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Homeowner’s Insurance Protects You Outside Your Home > Insurer Must Defend $2.5M Lawsuit Arising from Fight

What happens if you get into a physical altercation with another person and then that person sues you as a result?

Will your homeowner’s insurance defend you in that lawsuit?

Will your homeowner’s insurance pay any damages awarded against you in that lawsuit?

In Graham v. Coakley (2008 Ontario Superior Court), a 40 year old martial arts instructor (Coakley) physically scuffled with a 19 year old male (Graham) at a shopping mall.  Coakley allegedly threw Graham through a door and then onto the ground, using a martial arts body throw in the process.  Graham claimed a head injury, fractured humerus, dislocated shoulder and other injures; he sued Coakley for $2.5M in damages.

Coakley claimed that he acted in self-defence only and sought a defence from his homeowner’s policy which was with Allstate Insurance –Coakley v. Allstate Insurance Company of Canada (2009 Ontario Superior Court).

The issue here was whether Coakley’s acts were intentional (i.e. a deliberate fight) or unintentional (i.e. defending himself).  The homeowner’s insurance generally provides coverage and a defence for unintentional acts.

Allstate Insurance denied a defence, stating that it has no duty to defend or indemnify Coakley because the claim against him fell within an exclusion in his insurance policy.  That policy provided that Coakley was not covered for “bodily injury or property damage caused intentionally by or at your direction or resulting from your criminal acts or omissions”.

Coakley had been criminally charged for this incident.  At Trial, those criminal charges were dismissed.

After those criminal charges were dismissed, these motions (in civil court) were brought to decide whether Allstate had to defend Croakley against the lawsuit and whether policy coverage would be afforded.

It was held that Allstate had a duty to defend Coakley and thereby was responsible for funding the lawyer of Coakley’s choosing.

The issue of coverage remains an open question, depending on the evidence ultimately presented within the lawsuit – i.e. whether Coakley’s actions were intentional or unintentional.

Gregory Chang
Toronto Insurance Litigation Lawyer