10.26.2018

Washington Federal Court Upholds Sexual Abuse Exclusion; Rejects Proximate Cause Argument

In Safeco Ins. Co. of America v. Wolk, Cause No. C18-5368 RBL, 2018 WL 5295250, at *1 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 25, 2018) the federal district court analyzed the duty to defend a suit against Safeco’s insureds, Ben and Michelle Wolk. The underlying suit alleged sexual abuse by Ben and negligent supervision by Michelle. Safeco denied coverage for Ben, but defended Michelle under a reservation of rights, and brought a declaratory judgment action to determine its obligations, if any, to Michelle.

 

Safeco brought a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the suit did not allege an occurrence under the policy and that several exclusions bar coverage. The court performed a proximate cause analysis pursuant to Xia v. ProBuilders Specialty Ins. CoRRG, 188 Wn.2d 171 (2017), and found in Safeco’s favor in all respects, holding that three separate grounds barred coverage.

 

First, the court held that negligent supervision cannot be efficient proximate cause of sexual abuse, noting that no case discussing efficient proximate cause supports the assertion that negligence or negligent supervision can be the efficient proximate cause of an intentional act. Further, on a factual basis “[i]t is not possible that the efficient proximate cause of the sexual abuse was Michelle’s knowledge that it was happening and her failure to stop it.” Accordingly, the suit against the insureds does not allege an occurrence under the policy, and no duty to defend exists.

 

Second, the intentional act exclusion contained in the policy, which excludes injury “which is expected or intended by any insured or which is the foreseeable result of an act or omission intended by any insured” (emphasis added) applied to exclude coverage for Michelle where Ben committed sexual abuse.

 

Third, the sexual abuse exclusion, which excludes coverage for bodily injury “arising out of physical or mental abuse, sexual molestation, or sexual harassment” applied to the claim of negligent supervision against insured Michelle Wolk. The court held that the negligent supervision claim necessarily arises out of the sexual abuse.

Posted by Jennifer Dinning