If a Collision Is Intentional, Does the Driver’s Auto Insurance Pay Out For Liability?

"The recent story about the crazed driver running down pedestrians near Portland State University made me wonder."

The recent story about the crazed driver running down pedestrians near Portland State University made me wonder: Does the driver's auto insurance pay out for liability in such cases? Insurance never pays out for suicide, but does it pay out for intentional acts? —Worried About Premiums

The short answer to your question is "no." The slightly longer answer is "depends how good your lawyer is."

Most insurance policies do contain a boilerplate carve-out called an "intended acts" clause, which keeps you from getting a policy to cover something you already plan to do.

Say you want to blow up your neighbor's house (it obstructs your view of Venus). Without an intended acts clause, you could simply buy an insurance policy, make one payment, torch the house and spend the rest of the summer wrapped in a soothing blanket of indemnity.

The intended acts clause puts the kibosh on such schemes. Now, when you're the victim of what appears to be an intentional act on the part of an insured person, that person's insurance company will tell you to go suck an egg.

But while they'd like you to believe you don't have a case, the truth may be more nuanced. In Abrams v. General Star Indemnity Co. (does quoting case law make me look taller?), the Oregon Supreme Court held that merely alleging that an act was intentional doesn't abrogate an insurance company's duty to defend the actor.

This is your lawyer's time to shine, because what is intent, really? Can we ever really know what someone else intends? Who can say what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Who's sucking now?

I'm not a lawyer, but if I were, I might set about establishing that the crazed (but hopefully well-insured) madman who blew up my client's house was incapacitated by mental illness, and thus incapable of forming intentions.

Of course, proving the defendant insane has the unintended consequence of keeping him out of jail, but what do you want—justice, or a timeshare in Barbados?