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Drunken Shots Weren’t an ‘Accident,’ Court Says

(CN) - State Farm Fire & Casualty Insurance has no duty to defend a man who tried to shoot and possibly kill a woman while intoxicated, the 3rd Circuit ruled. The court rejected a claim by the man's estate that his drunkenness rendered the shooting an "accident" under his insurance policies.

In a case the judges called "tragic and bizarre," Thomas Mehlman got drunk at a restaurant in Edgemont, Pa., on March 5, 2005. He walked in a drunken stupor to the house of his then-girlfriend, Phyllis Sauter, and let himself in, even though she wasn't home. Her roommate, Maria Iacono, asked Mehlman repeatedly to leave, but he refused, so Iacono left instead. After she got in her car, Mehlman "approached her vehicle in a rage," raised a .45-caliber handgun and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired, the ruling states.

He then jumped onto the hood of her car and fired a second shot that misfired. He shot at least two more times, but either missed or the gun misfired.

Mehlman chased Iacono as she drove away. He returned to Sauter's house and shot himself in the head.

Iacono sued his estate, prompting State Farm to file a declaratory judgment action alleging that it had no duty to defend or indemnify the estate against Iacono's claims.

The lower court ruled that State Farm had no duty under the homeowners policy, but had to defend - but not necessarily indemnify - the estate under an umbrella policy.

Both sides appealed.

The federal appeals court in Philadelphia rejected the estate's argument that Mehlman's drunkenness rendered the attempted shooting an "accident" under state law, which would've meant State Farm was on the hook.

"Our review of the relevant Pennsylvania law leads us to conclude that Mehlman's intoxication cannot render his alleged actions on March 5, 2005 - walking to his girlfriend's house equipped with a loaded handgun and, after encountering Iacono, attempting to shoot and kill her - accidental under Pennsylvania law," Judge Morton Greenberg wrote.

"An actor is presumed to intend the natural and expected results of his actions."

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