State Farm ordered to defend family whose son allegedly sent bullying texts that led to classmate's suicide

By Charmaine Little | Jan 2, 2019

PHILADELPHIA - State Farm was ordered to defend a boy whose text message was said to cause a classmate’s suicide, according to court documents from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued on Dec. 11.

U.S. District Judge Mark Kearney ruled on the case. The message can be seen in Kearney's ruling.

State Farm argued that despite the boy’s family’s plea to indemnify them in state court -- the insurance company agreed via contract in the homeowner’s insurance policy to defend in a lawsuit that stemmed from an "occurrence" seen as an "accident" under Pennsylvania law -- that because the boy sent the message, this wasn’t an "accident" on his part. 

Attorneys for the boy's family said Pennsylvania law forces the court to look at how foreseeable and predictable the occurrence was from the boy's perspective. Even though he can’t deny sending the message, the boy has made it clear he never thought it would lead to this unthinkable event.

“When we carefully examine the principles underlying coverage for ‘accidents’ under Pennsylvania law, we hold the insurer must defend the boy in the underlying state court case because the negligence claim against him falls within the scope of the ‘occurrence’ language in the insurer’s homeowners’ policy,” the court said.

The court first determined that a precondition to personal liability coverage under the family’s policy calls for an "occurrence" as an "accident." The policy itself doesn’t define "accident," but instead solely defines "occurrence" as “all bodily injury and property damage resulting from one accident, series of related accidents or from continuous and repeated exposure to the same general conditions.”

While State Farm said it’s convinced the boy purposefully cyberbullied and harassed the victim, meaning no "accident" even happened, his family says State Farm is off base in the intentionality of his actions. Considering this, the court pointed out that State Farm misplaced its reliance on state law decisions that held a faulty workmanship claims don’t step from an "accident." 

It added that any bodily injury that comes from the family’s intentionally tortious conduct isn’t seen as an "accident." Considering this and other factors, the court ordered State Farm to the defend the boy’s family in state court, pointing out that the family sees the classmate’s death by suicide as an accident.

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