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Lincoln Logan Mutual Insurance Co. v. Fornshell

December 20, 1999

LINCOLN LOGAN MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY AND GRINNELL MUTUAL REINSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
RODNEY E. FORNSHELL AND CLAUDIA FORNSHELL, ADMINISTRATORS OF THE ESTATE OF ARTHUR FORNSHELL, DECEASED DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS, AND RONALD STURGEON, DEFENDANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of De Witt County No. 92MR13 Honorable George S. Miller, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Cook

In November 1990, Ronald Sturgeon became involved in an altercation with Arthur Fornshell in the rest room of a local tavern. During the altercation, Sturgeon stabbed Fornshell in the chest and abdomen with a pocketknife. Fornshell died as a result of the wounds, and Sturgeon was convicted of first degree murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a) (now 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a) (West 1998))).

In September 1991, Fornshell's parents, Rodney and Claudia Fornshell (the Fornshells), sued Sturgeon for wrongful death and survival. Lincoln Logan Mutual Insurance Company (Lincoln) and Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company (Grinnell) defended Sturgeon as part of the comprehensive personal liability coverage of his homeowner's insurance policy. However, Lincoln and Grinnell defended Sturgeon under a reservation of rights, alleging Sturgeon was not covered under the policy due to an exclusion for intentional acts. In January 1996, a jury awarded judgment in the Fornshells' favor. On a posttrial motion, the trial court offered the Fornshells an additur or a new trial on all issues. The Fornshells opted for a new trial and won another jury award in January 1998 for $174,329.43.

Meanwhile, in September 1992, Lincoln and Grinnell filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, arguing that they were not obligated to defend or indemnify Sturgeon due to a policy exclusion for intentional acts. The exclusion stated: "We do not cover bodily injury or property damage arising out of any act intended by an insured person whether or not the bodily injury or property damage was intended ***." The action proceeded to a bench trial in February 1999.

Sturgeon testified that he entered Curry's Pub the night of the murder and sat on a stool next to Glenda Sears, whom he had dated for several years. After sitting on the stool, Sturgeon was approached by Michael Edge, who claimed Sturgeon was sitting in his seat. Sturgeon and Edge argued over the stool and Sturgeon eventually moved to another stool on the other side of Sears. At this point, Fornshell, who was seated on the other side of Edge, leaned around Edge, pointed a finger at Sturgeon and started calling Sturgeon names. Shortly thereafter, Sturgeon was talking to Sears when a barstool was shoved along the floor and crashed into Sturgeon's knee. Sturgeon believed Edge shoved the stool.

About 15 minutes after the barstool incident, Sturgeon went to the bathroom on the lower level of the bar. To get there, Sturgeon had to walk by where Edge and Fornshell had been seated. Sturgeon testified that he did not look and did not know whether Edge or Fornshell was sitting there when he walked by.

Sturgeon testified that, as he walked into the rest room, Fornshell was coming out, and Fornshell struck him in the temple area. Sturgeon testified he fell to his knees and does not remember all of the events after that. Sturgeon did not deny stabbing Fornshell twice with his pocketknife. Sturgeon testified he was fearful during the struggle that Edge was going to jump him from behind; however, he had no recollection of Edge being in the rest room during the struggle. Edge and Fornshell each outweighed Sturgeon.

After the stabbing, Sturgeon walked out of the rear of the bar and threw away the pocketknife. Sturgeon and Sears left the premises, with Sears driving. Sturgeon did not call or ask anyone to call the police. Sturgeon never told Sears that evening that Fornshell hit him first.

Karen Curry testified she was part owner of Curry's Pub and Sturgeon was her brother. She testified Fornshell shoved the barstool against Sturgeon's knee and Sturgeon appeared to be upset. About 10 minutes after the stool incident, she saw Sturgeon walk at a fast pace toward the rest room. Karen went downstairs and entered the men's rest room. Karen saw Sturgeon and Fornshell facing each other, with Sturgeon holding a knife. Apparently, Sturgeon had already stabbed Fornshell.

Sears testified she and Sturgeon had a small disagreement that evening that seemed to upset him. Sears had no knowledge of what happened in the rest room. After the stabbing, Sears saw Sturgeon at the end of the bar and she asked him if he was ready to go. He just said, "okay." Sears and Sturgeon exited the bar and got in the car, with Sears driving. Sears testified Sturgeon told her "he thought he might have hurt somebody or killed somebody and he might be going away to jail for a long time." Sturgeon told Sears several times he did it "over you, over you." Sears testified Sturgeon never complained of pain and she did not see any sign of injury on him. Sturgeon did not tell Sears he had been attacked or hit.

Michael Edge testified that he and Sturgeon argued over the barstool. Fornshell joined the argument and Sturgeon stated to Edge, "I don't know who your friend is but if he fucks with me again I will kill him." About 10 to 15 minutes later, Fornshell went to the rest room. Then, Sturgeon headed in the same direction "at a very quick pace." Edge testified Sturgeon looked very angry, with "a scowl on his face and his eyes were very wide open and bulging." Edge went to the rest room after Sturgeon, but Fornshell had already been stabbed.

Police officer Todd Ummel testified he arrested Sturgeon after a traffic stop. Ummel did not observe any injuries to Sturgeon and found him calm and polite during the booking. When Ummel asked Sturgeon if he was sick or injured, Sturgeon answered, "no."

After consideration of briefs filed by Grinnell and the Fornshells following the trial, the trial court found: "[T]he actions of Sturgeon against Fornshell, the decedent, were without justifiable or reasonable force and were forceful with intent to act and intent from the action to inflict bodily harm upon Fornshell." The court also examined the Grinnell insurance policy and determined that the exclusion clause for intentional acts was unambiguous as applied to the facts of this case and effectively excluded coverage.

The Fornshells appeal, arguing that the exclusionary language in Grinnell's homeowner's policy is vague, ambiguous, and overbroad. The Fornshells allege the language that excludes coverage for intentional acts "whether or not the bodily injury or property damage was intended" not only excludes intentional torts and crimes, but also all traditional negligence claims. The Fornshells note that virtually all tortfeasors who embark upon a course of conduct act "intentionally" in some measure. (For example, a child who accidentally hits a baseball through a neighbor's window "intended" to hit the baseball, but did not intend to break the window.) ...


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