Insurers Off Hook for Civil Suit Over Girl’s Murder

(CN) – A West Virginia woman whose daughter used her car while committing murder is not covered by her auto insurance policy, the state’s highest court ruled.

Teenagers Sheila Eddy and Rachel Shoaf wanted to end their friendship with Skylar Neese, but they were afraid Skylar would disclose embarrassing information about them.

So instead, they decided to kill her.

Eddy and Shoaf picked up Neese in a car belonging to Neese’s mother, Tara Clendenen. They drove her to a remote location in Pennsylvania and stabbed her to death.

Eddy was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Shoaf was sentenced to 30 years for second-degree murder.

Neese’s parents, Mary and David Neese, sued the girls and their mothers for negligent supervision, as well as negligent entrustment regarding Clendenen’s car.

The insurance companies of the killers’ mothers, American National Property and Casualty Co. and Erie Insurance Property and Casualty Co., sued in federal court for a declaration that they are not required to indemnify the parents against the Neeses’ lawsuit.

While the federal court ruled that coverage was not available under the auto policies, it certified questions to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals regarding the homeowners’ policies.

In a decision written by Justice Brent D. Benjamin, the state’s highest court ruled Thursday that the mothers are not entitled to insurance coverage for the actions of their daughters.

“Erie excluded coverage to all insureds for intentional or expected acts by ‘anyone we protect,’” Benjamin noted. “This distinction is significant as it clearly evidences the insurer’s intent to create a co-obligation between the insureds covered by the policy and to exclude coverage for all insureds based on the intentional or expected acts of any insured.”

The judge added, “Accordingly, we conclude that Erie’s homeowner’s policy specifically excludes coverage of loss to any insured where the intentional acts by ‘anyone we protect’ caused the loss.”

The federal court also asked whether the severability clauses in the insurance policies, which separate coverage for each insured, prevail over these exclusions. Benjamin found that they did not.

“The severability clause’s command to apply the insurance separately to each insured does not alter the intentional/criminal act exclusions’ plain meaning or create ambiguity in its application,” he wrote.

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