Conroy Simberg Obtains Favorable Summary Judgment in Tragic Murder/Suicide Case
Posted in Verdicts and Settlements on April 3, 2018
In the case of Gulfstream Property and Casualty Insurance Co. v. Estate of Navas et al., Diane H. Tutt, an appellate partner in the firm’s Hollywood office, and Jeffrey A. Blaker, a partner in the firm’s West Palm Beach office, recently obtained a summary final judgment on all issues in favor of Gulfstream in a declaratory judgment case.
In this tragic case, a man became intoxicated at a party at his residence. After the party he shot and killed his wife and three children, then committed suicide. There were no eyewitnesses but the investigating detective concluded that it was a murder/suicide and the medical examiner concluded that none of the shootings were accidental.
The personal representative of the estate of the wife and the children brought suit against the insured, assailant Sonny Medina, and notified his insurer, Gulfstream, about the suit. Although the complaint alleged that the deaths were due to accidental discharge of a firearm, for which there could be coverage, Gulfstream took the position that this was a murder/suicide, and intentional acts are not covered by the policy. Gulfstream filed a separate declaratory action seeking a determination of no coverage and no duty to defend the underlying suit. Gulfstream was given a copy of the underlying complaint but was never advised that the plaintiff in the underlying case arranged for the appointment of a personal representative for the insured who promptly waived service of process and participated in an arbitration of the underlying case, all without notice to Gulfstream. The arbitrator found that the deaths were due to the negligent discharge of a firearm and awarded damages of nearly $2.5 million against the Estate of Sonny Medina.
In the declaratory judgment action, the plaintiff in the underlying wrongful death action argued two things: first, that the court was bound by the arbitration award and resulting judgment in the underlying case, and second, that Sonny Medina could not have formed the intent to kill because of his intoxication. Gulfstream’s positions, which the court in the declaratory judgment action accepted, were that Gulfstream was not bound by the collusive arbitration award for which it had no notice, that Gulfstream did not have the duty to defend the underlying action unless and until service had been effected on the personal representative for Sonny Medina, and that, according to Florida Supreme Court precedent, voluntary intoxication does not turn an intentional act into an accidental one.