Oakes v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co.

Decision Date09 December 1975
PartiesRussell OAKES, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. STATE FARM FIRE & CASUALTY COMPANY, a corporation having authority to do business in the State of New Jersey, Defendant-Appellant, and Edward Appleton, Jr., an infant by his Guardian ad Litem, Edward Appleton, Sr., Defendant.
CourtNew Jersey Superior Court — Appellate Division

Oppenheim & Oppenheim, Asbury Park, for defendant-appellant (Donald B. Connolly, Asbury Park, of counsel and on the briefs).

Slingland, Bernstein & VanHartogh, Pompton Lakes, for plaintiff-respondent (George VanHartogh, Pompton Lakes, of counsel and on the brief).


The opinion of the court was delivered by


Defendant State Farm Fire & Casualty Company (State Farm) appeals from a judgment of the Chancery Division which held that a homeowner's policy that State Farm issued to Russell Oakes provided coverage to Russell Oakes, Jr., for injuries caused by the latter in an assault and battery upon Edward Appleton, Jr. State Farm contends that Oakes' action came within Exclusion-Section II(c) of the policy, which provided that there would be no coverage for 'bodily injury or property damage caused intentionally by or at the direction of the Insured.'

This suit traces its origin to an altercation between Appleton and Oakes during which the former suffered a broken leg. Appleton then instituted an action for compenstory and punitive damages. State Farm refused to defend Oakes at trial. The issues of liability and damages were tried separately. On liability the jury found specifically that Oakes was guilty of assault and battery upon Appleton. On the damages question a judge sitting without a jury awarded Appleton compensatory damages but denied his claim for punitive damages, saying, 'I do not find that the defendant had any intention or desire to inflict this type of injury on the plaintiff, but it did, nevertheless, arise out of the assault and battery.'

Following this judgment Oakes instituted the instant declaratory judgment suit seeking to establish that the State Farm policy provided coverage for the incident in question and, further, that conduct on behalf of the carrier through its counsel and its investigating staff estopped it from denying coverage.

The trial judge held that 'even with an exclusion clause, coverage does exist where there is an unintended injury, as distinguished from an intended one, as a result of an intentional act,' citing Lyons v. Hartford Ins. Group, 125 N.J.Super. 239, 310 A.2d 485 (App.Div.1973), certif. den. 64 N.J. 322, 315 A.2d 411 (1974). The judge reasoned that, since the damage trial judge had held that there was 'no intention to inflict the injury that resulted,' Oakes was entitled to coverage under the policy even though the jury in the liability trial had found an 'intentional tort' on the part of Oakes. 'Coverage exists,' the judge said, 'since there is an unintended injury as the result of an intended act.'

We conclude that the trial judge misapplied the holding of Lyons. In that case the insured had fired a gun, killing one Berger. The insured contended that the gun fired inadvertently, that he had no intention of harming anyone, and that at most he intended to fire a warning shot. The trial judge dismissed the insured's complaint, which sought a declaratory judgment that there was coverage. The Appellate Division reversed and ordered a new trial.

In the course of its opinion in Lyons the court referred to the rule that despite exclusion clauses such as the one at issue here, coverage exists for the unintended results of an intentional act, but not for damages assessed because of an injury which was intended to be inflicted. 125 N.J.Super. at 245, 310 A.2d 485. The Lyons court was careful to point out that where the intentional act has resulted in intended injury, even where the...

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  • SL Industries, Inc. v. American Motorists Ins. Co.
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    ...defendant did not intend to kill victim in fight, intent to harm sufficient to trigger exclusion); Oakes v. State Farm Mut. Ins., 137 N.J.Super. 365, 366, 349 A.2d 102 (App.Div.1975) (even though trial court specifically found that defendant did not intend to inflict type of injuries sustai......
  • Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Co. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co.
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    ...inferred as a matter of law. See Lyons v. Hartford Ins. Group, 125 N.J.Super. at 246-47, 310 A.2d 485; Oakes v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 137 N.J.Super. 365, 368, 349 A.2d 102 (1975), certif. denied, 70 N.J. 142, 358 A.2d 189 (1976); Pendergraft v. Commercial Standard Fire & Marine Co., 3......
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    ...analogous act. See 2 A.L.R.3d 1238, Supra, § 4b at 1245 and supplement. An example of this view is found in Oakes v. State Farm, 137 N.J.Super. 365, 349 A.2d 102 (App.Div.1975). In the liability trial the jury expressly found that Oakes was guilty of assault and battery which, under the cou......
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