Amica Mut. Ins. Co. v. Mutrie, No. 2013-400, slip op. (N.H. Nov. 13, 2014)

On April 12, 2012, Cullen Mutrie shot and killed Greenland police chief Michael Maloney and wounded four other police officers, before killing his girlfriend and himself.  The shooting occurred when the officers attempted to execute a search warrant. The officers were part of a drug task force and were executing the search warrant at Mutrie’s residence.  The property was owned by a trust, of which Mutrie’s mother, Beverly Mutrie, was the trustee.  The four wounded officers subsequently sued Beverly Mutrie. The suit was based on the theory that she allowed and facilitated her son’s criminal activity at the property.  Ms. Mutrie’s homeowners’ and excess insurer, Amica Mutual Insurance Company, argued that it did not owe her coverage on the basis that her alleged conduct was not accidental.  The trial court ruled in favor of Amica, and the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed.

 

Ms. Mutrie’s homeowners’ policy, as is standard for liability insurance, based its provision of coverage on bodily injury or property damage arising from an accidental “occurrence.”  The New Hampshire Supreme Court has two tests for determining whether an insured’s act was an accidental cause of an injury.  The first is subjective – whether the insured actually intended to cause the resulting injury.  If so, there is no coverage.  The second is objective – whether the insured’s act is inherently harmful.  Again, if so, there is no coverage.  In this case, the Court applied the second, objective test because the officers had not alleged that Ms. Mutrie intended to harm them.  The critical question for the Court to decide was “whether a reasonable person in Mutrie’s position would know that permitting her son to engage in illegal drug activity on her property would result in some injury, although not necessarily the injury that, in fact, occurred.”  The Court determined that because the sale and distribution of drugs is inherently harmful, the answer was yes.  Because the conduct alleged against Ms. Mutrie was inherently harmful, there was no accidental occurrence that would create coverage under her policies with Amica.

 

The Court also rejected as irrelevant the officers’ argument that Ms. Mutrie had denied actual knowledge of her son’s activities.  The Court’s analysis was based on the officers’ own allegations, regardless of whether Mutrie admitted the allegations or not, and the officers had alleged that she knew what her son was doing.  Even if the officers had alleged accidental conduct on Mutrie’s part without knowledge of her son’s activities, the legal term for which is negligence, they would have run into problems in their case against her.  This is because generally, the law does not impose a duty on someone to prevent the criminal acts of a third party, even in the case of a mother and her adult son.  To establish a duty of care against Ms. Mutrie, the officers had to allege that she knew what her son was doing.  Unfortunately for the officers, who seemed to be stuck between a rock and a hard place as far as the applicable law is concerned, this significantly lessened their chances at obtaining insurance coverage.

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