Wednesday, April 20, 2011

U.S. District Court denies summary judgment to Pring-Wilson's insurer

I posted here about the declaratory judgment complaint filed by Fire Insurance Company seeking interpretation of the homeowner's policy by which it insured Alexander Pring-Wilson's mother. Pring-Wilson, a Harvard graduate student, had pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter of Michael Colono in Massachusetts. Colono's estate filed a wrongful death action against him, and he sought coverage under the homeowner's policy issued to his mother in Colorado.

In Fire Ins. Exchange v. Pring-Wilson, 2011 WL 1162913 (D. Mass.), the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts has denied the insurer's motion for summary judgment, on the grounds that there were facts supporting the propositions that Colono's death was an accident, and that his death was not reasonably foreseeable under the Colorado law of insurance coverage.

According to the opinion, Pring-Wilson was walking late at night and Colono was parked in a car with two friends, including Sammy Rodriguez. Words were exchanged and Colono got out of the car and began to fight with Pring-Wilson. Rodriguez then got out of the car and joined the fight. Pring-Wilson pulled out a knife he habitually carried and began flailing it in front of him, cutting Colono in five places. Colono and Rodriguez got back in their car, and apparently neither of them at first realized that Colono had been cut. When Rodriguez realized that Colono was injured he sought help. Colono died in a hospital that night.

The fight had taken little more than a minute. As soon as the other two men drove away, Pring-Wilson called 911. Although he denied that he was involved in the fight he reported that he had seen a man get stabbed.

In the civil wrongful death trial, the state superior court judge had concluded that Wilson had not sought help from a nearby store and therefore and not availed himself of all reasonable alternatives to combat, and that Pring-Wilson had employed more force than was reasonably necessary to repel the attack. He also concluded that Pring-Wilson did not intend to kill or inflict serious injury with his knife, but only to drive the other two men away.

The U.S. District Court examined whether Colono's death was an accident (and therefore an occurrence) within the meaning of the policy and under Colorado law. It held that some facts supported the conclusion that Colono's death was accidental, including that Pring-Wilson had not intended to kill or seriously harm Colono; that the fight was quick and confused; that Colono was not aware that he had been wounded; and that at least four of the five knife wounds were very shallow.

The court then examined whether the intentional acts exclusion excluded coverage. It held that the exclusion did not apply because under Colorado law Colono's death was not reasonably foreseeable given Pring-Wilson's conduct.


Dan said...

I'd like to get some background on why they went to the homeowners policy...hmmm...easy money maybe? Shame these thing appear so transparent on the surface

Nina Kallen said...

According to the decision Pring-Wilson is defending the coverage action pro se. The decision also references arguments made by Colono's estate. Those facts could indicate that Pring-Wilson himself is judgment-proof, and that he has entered into an agreement with Colono's estate under which the estate agrees not to pursue his personal assets in exchange for an assignment of his rights under the insurance policy.