Part three of my series covering the Intentional Acts Exclusion brings us to Connecticut. To understand how Connecticut approaches this subject you will have to understand the legal term dictum. Dictum (or dicta for plural) is Latin for “remark” and is defined as a comment by a judge in a decision or ruling not required to reach the decision, but may state a related legal principle as the judge understands it. While it may be cited in legal argument, it does not have the full force of a precedent since the comment was not part of the legal basis for judgment.
In Home Insurance Company v. Aetna Life and Casualty Company,1 Barry Schuss set fire to a synagogue. The casualty insurer of the synagogue, Home Insurance Company (HIC), brought a subrogation action against the homeowners’ insurer of Schuss’ parents, Aetna. HIC filed a motion to obtain Schuss’ psychiatric records which was denied by the trial court. Aetna moved for summary judgment based on the intentional act exclusion and won. HIC then appealed both the denial of the records and the summary judgment. The appellate court reversed the trial court on both decisions.
The Connecticut Supreme Court then granted Schuss’ petition for certification to appeal, limited to the issue of whether the appellate court properly concluded that HIC was entitled to access Schuss’ records. They also granted Aetna’s petition, limited to whether the intentional act exclusion provision applies to the circumstances of this case.
The supreme court ultimately denied HIC’s petition to obtain the psychiatric records therefore nullifying any chance HIC had to prove Schuss’ mental state. The court was convinced Schuss was sane for the purposes of setting the fire after careful review of his deposition testimony. The court then stated, in dicta:
Noting that Connecticut has not yet considered the question, the Appellate Court stated that “other jurisdictions have determined that the conduct of an insured is not intentional for the purposes of an intentional act exclusion where the insured lacks a certain mental capacity.” The Appellate Court thereafter concluded that “the mental condition of an insured may affect theapplication of a policy’s intentional act exclusion clause.”
The appellate court listed the following tests that have been adopted in other jurisdictions:
- An insured’s actions are not considered intentional where a derangement of the insured’s intellect deprived him of the capacity to control his actions in accordance with reason, and, while suffering from that condition, he acted on an irrational impulse.
- An insured’s actions are considered intentional where, although he cannot appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct, he understands the nature and consequences of his actions and intends to cause injury.
- An insured’s actions are not considered intentional where, because of mental illness or defect, the insured does not appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct, or is deprived of the capacity to control his actions regardless of his understanding of the wrongfulness of his action.
The appellate court adopted the last test, however, the supreme court noted in its conclusion:
We have not had occasion to decide the question of how an insured’s mental condition may affect the application of an insurance policy’s intentional act exclusion clause. We need not consider this issue, however because we conclude that HIC has failed to adduce any evidence to establish that Schuss did not intend to cause damage to the Emanuel Synagogue when he set it ablaze.
Unfortunately since the supreme court noted the standard they would probably use in dicta, this does not count as precedent since the court only overturned the appellate court on the disclosure of psychiatric records issue and did not decide the intentional act exclusion issue. However the appellate court decision2 could be cited as precedent.
I leave you not with a quote today but an invite to join me and my fellow colleague, Nicole Vinson, when we have our live webcast on Lawline, June 13, 2016, at 10:00am EDT, discussing various topics on First Party Property Claims.