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Self-defense insurance: Extra line of defense for gun owners

Some homeowners buy guns with the intention of protecting their families and property. But they might not consider the legal and financial aftermath of using it. What would happen if you shot an intruder? Would your homeowner’s liability insurance pay damages that result from acts of self defense?

Actually, many policies specifically exclude coverage for damages that you cause intentionally. For instance, say you get in a fist fight with your neighbor and give him a concussion. Chances are, your insurance will not cover his medical bills and the resulting lawsuit, even if you have a potent liability policy. This provision to exclude intentional acts is technically known as the “intentional injury exclusion,” according to the International Risk Management Institute.

If your policy contains this exclusion, even acts of self-defense can be considered intentional — and any legal costs that arise generally will not be covered under your homeowner’s insurance. In other words, if you shoot a burglar who breaks into your home, and he sues you, your home insurance likely will offer no protection.

Yet a specialty product offered by a handful of insurers, called self-defense insurance, covers homeowners in exactly that situation.

The National Rifle Association, for example, offers self-defense insurance underwritten by Lockton Affinity and sold as a rider to its “excess personal liability” coverage which protects gun owners while they’re hunting). A yearly premium of $165 provides $100,000 worth of coverage for criminal or civil defense costs, and a yearly premium of $254 buys $250,000 worth of coverage.

Having this protection can give gun owners peace of mind — especially given the legal maze they might have to navigate after shooting in self-defense. Courts are split as to how acts of self-defense relate to the intentional injury exclusion. The answer may come down to your jurisdiction, the specific wording of your policy and the court’s interpretation of it.

In some cases, the courts have found that self defense is not covered. For example, the 2005 case Automobile Insurance Co. of Hartford v. Alfred S. Cook involved a homeowner who shot and killed an acquaintance who attacked him. After the victim’s estate brought a lawsuit, the homeowner sought coverage and sued his home insurance company when coverage was denied. A New York appellate court found that, because the death didn’t stem from an accident, the homeowner’s civil legal fees were not covered.

On the other hand, some courts have found that homeowners acting in self-defense can leapfrog over the intentional injury exclusion. And some home insurance policies even include an exception to the intentional injury rule for “injury resulting from the use of reasonable force to protect persons or property,” according to the International Risk Management Institute.

Obviously, most homeowners hope to never have to resort to violent acts of self-defense. But if you keep a gun in your home, it may pay off to investigate whether an act of self-defense would fall under an intentional injury exclusion in your homeowner’s insurance policy.

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