What prompts this insight is an article by insurance expert and instructor Ted A. Kinney, writing in this month's PIA (Professional Independent Agents Association) newsletter. It's rather eye-opening stuff, because it addresses something that's been under the radar for a while.
Lots of attention was given, in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, to liability issues when a gun is used in a crime. And almost exactly a year ago, we discussed the proposal put forth by retired business owner Tom Harvey to compensate victims of illegal gun violence.
But what about the legal use of a weapon in self-defense? The rate of concealed carry permits has risen dramatically the past few years, and most folks have either home or renter's insurance. What part might these policies play if one were to injure or kill someone else in self-defense?
[ed: we'll deal here only with homeowners' policies - as always, we urgently suggest that you consult with your own agent about your specific policy]
The typical homeowner's policy follows a fairly predictable pattern: "we give you coverage, we take it away, then we give some of it back to you." The relevant policy section in this instance is "Coverage E - Personal Liability." This coverage protects one's assets if one is sued for injuring someone else. The policy extends coverage for this type of claim, but then excludes those claims that arise due to intentional acts. In this case, it's pretty clear that you intended to shoot your attacker, so it seems as if you're on your own.
Not so fast there, pardner:
Mr Kinney points out that newer policies will generally have an "exception to an exclusion;" that is, a policy clause that gives us back some coverage. In this case, it is for intentional acts that result from the use of "reasonable force." Unfortunately, as Mr Kinney also points out, the policy doesn't actually define "reasonable force."
So is there coverage, or not?
In Ohio, the law says that "a person is presumed to have acted in self-defense ... when using defensive force that is intended pot likely to cause death or great bodily harm ... if the person against whom the defensive force is used in in the process of unlawfully ... entering ... the residence or vehicle occupied by the person using defensive force"
[ed: contra Mr Kinney's characterization, this is an expression of "the Castle Doctrine," not "Stand Your Ground"]
Let's take a real-life example: George Zimmerman was (famously) found 'Not Guilty' of murder. But what if Trayvon Martin's parents sued him in civil court? Would his homeowner's policy have picked up that tab? Unfortunately, the answer is "it depends:" just because a jury said it was justified doesn't necessarily mean that your insurer will pick up the tab from a civil verdict, or even cover your defense costs (which can be quite expensive). That's determined by the policy wording, and it's possible, bordering on likely, that your policy does not, in fact, afford this coverage.
So what to do.
Mr Kinney offers some suggestions for "stand alone" policies that will (purportedly) offer legal and liability coverage. It's a good idea to check with your own carrier to see if such coverage is available, and to stay as up to date as possible on the changing law (I heartily recommend Andrew Branca's "The Law of Self Defense" which covers both federal and state laws and issues).
The bottom line? Don't assume that, just because you've dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's in order to get your concealed carry permit, that your insurance policy is going to cover you. You have a lot to lose.