Eighth Circuit Finds Fact Issue on Expected Injury Involving Clergy Abuse

Eighth Circuit Finds Fact Issue on Expected Injury Involving Clergy Abuse

In TIG Ins. Co. v. Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, No. 20-cv-2261, the United States District Court recently held a fact issue precluding summary judgment existed regarding whether a Catholic diocese could have expected a “substantial probability” of harm to victims of sexual abuse.

The underlying claims involved allegations of sexual abuse against James Fitzgerald, a longtime priest with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (“Oblate”). The accusers alleged Fitzgerald sexually abused them in the mid-to-late 1970s. TIG Insurance Company (“the insurer”) issued primary and umbrella policies to the Oblates.

The insurer alleged the claims were not covered because:

(I) The alleged abuse incidents were not “occurrences” and involved expected injury because the Oblates knew of past incidents and there was a high likelihood of future abuse;

(II) Claimants alleging only emotional distress did not satisfy the “bodily injury” requirement which trigger coverage.

The Court held fact disputes regarding extent of the Oblates degree of certainty that Fitzgerald would abuse precluded summary judgment as to whether the harm was expected as a matter of law. The policies defined “occurrence” as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to conditions, which results in bodily injury or property damage neither expected nor intended from the standpoint of the insured.” The exclusion applied if the Oblates knew it was highly likely Fitzgerald would have abused the Does.

The insurer argued previous incidents of appropriate conduct and the Oblates’ response to such incidents demonstrated the Oblates expected the accusers’ injury. The Court held the type of incidents alleged (grabbing a bathing suit, etc.) did not qualify as the type of known, direct abuse which the 8th Circuit previously found formed the basis for finding harm in the future to be expected.

The Court held in the insurer’s favor on other claims that alleged only emotional distress. The Court found “bodily injury,” as required by the policy, meant physical injury and did not include nonphysical harm such as mental suffering and emotional distress. Accordingly, because those only alleged mental injuries, unaccompanied by physical symptoms, those claims were not covered.

TIG demonstrates that coverage questions are often fact dependent and require proper legal analysis when determining whether a duty to defend or indemnity exists.

Please feel free to contact Tom Brock, Bob Kuderer, or Matt Johnson with any insurance coverage questions.