The National Rifle Association (NRA) and several other companies or organizations sell or sponsor the sale of insurance to defend and indemnify gun owners from liability in self defense situations. They do this on a nationwide basis and promise protection in a wide range of situations where the purpose of the gun use is to defend ones person or property. The point of this insurance is to have no restriction against covering self-defense as an intentional or willful act. The question raised in this post is: How can this be possible under California’s Insurance Code?
The regular liability insurance sold under the NRA auspices covers only a narrow range of possibilities—hunting, shooting at supervised venues and unintentional discharges. Other situations are not covered and there is a specific exclusion for intentional or willful acts:
M. “bodily injury” or “property damage” intentionally caused by or at the direction of the Individual Insured Member.
For an additional cost one can buy the insurance with a “Self-Defense Amendment” which adds coverage of bodily injury or property damage caused by the Individual Insured Member while engaged in an “act of self-defense” and which deletes the exclusion “M”. The new coverage is not limited to unintentional discharges or the situations listed above. Self-defense is defined in the amendment as:
P. “Act of self-defense” shall mean the act of defending one’s person, or other persons who may be threatened, or one’s property by the actual or threatened use of a “legally possessed firearm” as may be authorized by any applicable local, state or federal laws of the state or jurisdiction within which the “bodily injury” or “property damage” occurs. “Act of self-defense” includes the rendering of emergency assistance solely at the request of a uniformed law enforcement officer.
The insurance is offered nationwide for the NRA by their administrator Lockton Affinity. Two states, California and North Dakota, do not allow insurers to cover intentional acts. The provision in the Insurance Code of California is broadly applied in many situations an reads as follows:
§ 533 An insurer is not liable for a loss caused by the wilful act of the insured; but he is not exonerated by the negligence of the insured, or of the insured’s agents or others.
There have been cases such as Gray v. Zurich Insurance Co(419 P. 2d 168 – Cal: Supreme Court 1966) which find that insurers must defend but not necessarily indemnify insured persons in cases where self-defense is alleged, but this insurance clearly offers indemnification. Others have questioned whether a person reacting in fear of harm is acting intentionally or willfully, but this insurance is much broader than coverage limited to that kind of self-defense and even covers the defense of property.
So my question is: How can the NRA claim that acts of self-defense are intentional for the purposes of their exclusion in the standard insurance, but not willful under article 533 in their self-defense insurance? One way the self-defense insurance isn’t necessary and the other way it wouldn’t work.
Such insurance is designed solely for the protection of gun owners and provides very few benefits to shooting victims. It serves only to encourage the use of guns and to oppose the claims of gun victims and is the antithesis of the kind of insurance advocated by this blog. I would be greatly pleased if the Commissioner of Insurance for the State of California notices the contradiction and stops the sale of this kind of insurance in that state.
I do think that § 533 is too broad and should have an exception for insurance that pays benefits to innocent persons harmed by the insured. I understand that it prevents recovery by victims such as pedestrians run down in road rage incidents who look to the drivers insurance. Mandated gun insurance in California should have a provision that overrides § 533.
California residents who wish to complain about this insurance can find a copy of the form partially filled out at the link.