Dec. 10, 2013 – Two years ago, an 11-year-old boy found a loaded gun in his house and died after shooting himself in the head. The boy’s father, who did not live in the house, filed a wrongful death claim against the homeowners, the boy’s mother and her partner.
Robert Barrows claimed that Jason Renfrow negligently stored the .45 caliber handgun, which his son found loaded in Renfrow’s nightstand. Renfrow and the boy’s mother, Bonnie LaValla, had a homeowner’s insurance policy with American Family Insurance.
But in Barrows v. American Family Ins. Co., 2013AP720 (Dec. 10, 2013), a state appeals court ruled that an exclusion bars coverage for the wrongful death claim.
Specifically, the three-judge panel concluded that “intra-insured” exclusion precluded coverage. The so-called “intra-insured” exclusion stated that the policy did not cover bodily injury to insured persons, including death. The boy was an insured person.
Appealing a summary judgment ruling in favor of American Family, Barrows argued that this exclusion did not bar coverage for his wrongful death claim because he sought damages for his own injury, loss of services, not the injury to his son.
“Whether an intra-insured exclusion like the one in American Family’s policy bars a non-insured’s wrongful death claim arising from the death of an insured appears to be an issue of first impression in Wisconsin,” wrote Judge Lisa Stark.
The majority of courts in other jurisdictions, the appeals court explained, have ruled that intra-insured exclusions bar coverage for wrongful death claims, even claims brought by individuals who are not insured under the policy. The panel reviewed cases primarily from Ohio, Missouri, and Louisiana to hold that coverage was barred.
The three-judge panel followed the “majority rule that an intra-insured exclusion like the one in American Family’s policy bars coverage for a wrongful death claim arising out of an insured’s death, even if the claimant is a non-insured,” Judge Stark explained.