Monday, April 7, 2008
Court: Mistaken Belief Sexual Advances Welcome No ‘Accident’
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
A man’s mistaken belief that a woman would welcome his sexual advances did not render his alleged sexual assault and false imprisonment of her an “accident” requiring his insurer to provide a defense to her claims, this district’s Court of Appeal has ruled.
In a decision issued March 7 and ordered published on Thursday, Div. Two affirmed the judgment of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shepard Wiley Jr. that Fire Insurance Exchange had no duty to defend Stephen J. Lyons under an insurance policy covering only personal injury claims arising from an “accident” because Lyons’ actions could not be considered such as a matter of law.
A former professional baseball player later employed as a sportscaster for Fox TV and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lyons met Stacey Roy while they were both vacationing with their families at a hotel in Hawaii.
Following an afternoon of poolside conversation, he followed Roy in the elevator to the floor of her hotel room and took her by the wrist to a hallway alcove, where he asked her to expose her breasts. She declined to do.
Roy later complained of an ensuing sexual attack, which Lyons denied. He did, however, admit to having grabbed her wrist.
No Criminal Charges
Although criminal charges were not filed due to inconsistencies in Roy’s story, her lack of observable injuries, and statements by other hotel guests that she was flaunting her body while at the pool, Roy sued Lyons for claims relating to the alleged sexual attack, including a cause of action for false imprisonment.
Lyons tendered a request to Fire Insurance to defend him in the action, but the insurer determined that the facts did not meet the necessary prerequisite of damages caused by an “accident,” and denied any coverage under his homeowner’s policy.
Roy and Lyons later settled, and Lyons then sued Fire Insurance for breach of contract and bad faith.
The insurer moved for summary judgment, contending that it owed no duty to defend or indemnify Lyons because his alleged acts were not accidental, but rather intentional and outside of the policy’s provisions. Absent a duty to defend or indemnify, Fire Insurance maintained, it could not have committed insurance bad faith.
Lyons countered with his own motion for summary adjudication, arguing that Fire Insurance owed him a duty to defend because the policy potentially covered Roy’s cause of action for false imprisonment.
Summary Judgment Granted
Denying Lyons’ motion and granting summary judgment for the insurer, Wiley found that there was “no possibility of coverage for the grabbing and pulling of Roy’s wrist to take her to the alcove in the hallway of the hotel” because “grabbing a person’s wrist is not an accident.”
He further found that grabbing Roy’s wrist was “an intentional act,” even if done under a “mistaken belief” by Lyons that he had a right to do so, and that Lyons’ conduct was therefore excluded from coverage.
On Lyons’ appeal, Presiding Justice Roger W. Boren wrote to affirm the trial court.
Pointing out that an insured cannot reasonably expect a defense of claims based on risks clearly not covered under the policy, and noting that Lyons’ policy only covered accidents, Boren concluded that Fire Insurance had no duty to defend Lyons against Roy’s claims because Lyons’ conduct had been intentional.
Although he recognized that false imprisonment could be accidental in some cases, such as the proverbial shopkeeper who inadvertently locks an employee he though had left in a storage vault, or the store employee who honestly but mistakenly detains a suspected shoplifter, Boren opined that Lyons’ alleged sexual advances “simply could not be an accident.”
“The best that can be said by Lyons is that he labored under the misimpression that Roy would not rebuff his advances and would consent to his overtures. However, his mental miscalculation of her state of mind simply cannot transform his intentional conduct, done with full knowledge of all the objective facts, into an accident.
“Regardless of his misperception of consent, Lyons intended his sexual advance and the accompanying unwanted detention that was the subject of Roy’s claim. Hence, there was no ‘accident’ within the scope of the policy’s coverage for personal injury.”
Justices Judith M. Ashmann-Gerst and Victoria M. Chavez joined Boren in his opinion.
The case is Lyons v. Fire Insurance Exchange, 08 S.O.S. 2029.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company