Insurance Company May Be On the Hook for Negligent Hiring Claim After Employee Commits Sexual Assault

California insurance companies may try to avoid defending personal injury claims against an insured by arguing that the conduct does not fall under the insured’s policy. This can greatly reduce a plaintiff’s chance of recovering for their injuries, because many defendants do not have adequate resources to fairly compensate plaintiffs for their injuries.

The California Supreme Court recently decided a case in which an insurance company argued that it was not required to defend a negligent hiring claim against an insured arising from an alleged sexual assault.

The Facts of the Case

A woman alleged that a construction company negligently hired, retained, and supervised an employee that she claimed had sexually abused her. She alleged that one of the construction company’s employees sexually abused her when she was a 13-year-old student while the employee was working on a construction project at her school. The construction company’s insurer argued that it was not required to defend the construction company in that suit. The insurer’s commercial general liability policy provided coverage for bodily injury that was caused by an “occurrence,” which the policy defined as an “accident.” The insurer reasoned that because in this case the employee intentionally injured the woman, the incident was not an accident, and thus was not covered under the policy.

Intentional Conduct Under California Insurance Policies

Liability insurance in California defines the term “accident” as “an unexpected, unforeseen, or undesigned happening or consequence from either a known or an unknown cause.” The term accident refers to the conduct of the insured, and includes negligent conduct. Therefore, it includes coverage for the insured’s negligent conduct.

The Court’s Decision

California’s Supreme Court explained that the insured only had to prove that an underlying claim may fall within the policy coverage, while the insurer had to establish that the underlying claim could not fall within the policy coverage. The court explained that, the employee’s sexual misconduct was a “willful act” beyond the scope of the policy’s coverage. However, the underlying claim was based on the construction company’s alleged negligent hiring, retention and supervision of the employee. The court concluded that the construction company’s potentially negligent hiring, retention, and supervision were independent acts that could fall under the policy’s coverage.

The court then considered principles of causation and determined that the construction company’s acts could fall under the policy. It found that the causal connection between the construction company’s alleged negligence and the injury inflicted was close enough to justify the insurer’s liability. It noted that the employers can be held liable for negligent hiring, retention, or supervision even when the employee’s conduct is intentional, and that coverage should follow accordingly. Therefore, the insurance company could be required to defend the claim against the construction company.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have been injured in any kind of California personal injury accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. At the Sharifi Firm, APC, our injury attorneys provide dedicated representation to Los Angeles residents who have been harmed because of the negligence of others. We know how to negotiate with defendants and their insurance companies, but also are prepared to take your case to trial if it proves necessary. We handle motor vehicle collisions, slip-and-falls, nursing home abuse, and wrongful death cases, among others. Contact us for a free consultation at 1-866-422-7222 or via our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Supreme Court Explains Sudden Emergency Doctrine in California Car Accident Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, July 26, 2018

Case Reinstated Against Restaurant After Customer Bitten by Spider, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 23, 2018

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