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State Farm Fire Cas. Co. v. Pildner

Supreme Court of Ohio
Dec 31, 1974
40 Ohio St. 2d 101 (Ohio 1974)


No. 73-989

Decided December 31, 1974.

Insurance — Liability — Construction of policy — Duty of insurer to defend insured — Obligation to defend regardless of ultimate liability — Civil action against insured alleging negligent injury — Declaratory judgment.

Where, in a declaratory judgment action seeking to determine a liability insurer's duty to defend a civil action against an insured, the complaint in the civil action against the insured alleges negligent injury within the scope of coverage of the insurer's policy, the insurer is required to defend the insured regardless of the ultimate outcome of the litigation or the liability of the insurer to the insured under the terms of the policy.

APPEAL from the Court of Appeals for Stark County.

The following facts were alleged in appellant's complaint for declaratory judgment and are uncontradicted.

On June 19, 1971, appellee Richard C. Pildner, a Florida homeowner insured under a homeowner's insurance policy issued by the appellant, State Farm Fire Casualty Company, shot and seriously injured appellee Harry William Bryan, while in the city of Massillon, Ohio. Pildner was indicted by the Stark County grand jury for the felony of "shooting with intent to wound" and, on July 12, 1972, was convicted of that felony and subsequently sentenced to a term of 1-20 years in the Ohio State Reformatory at Mansfeld.

On April 7, 1972, while the criminal charge was pending against Pildner, appellees Mr. Mrs. Bryan filed a civil suit against Pildner in the Court of Common Pleas, the complaint alleging that Pildner "negligently injured the plaintiff by firing a rifle shot which took effect in the body of said plaintiff."

Appellee Pildner subsequently made demand upon appellant, State Farm, to defend the civil action filed by the Bryans and to pay, up to the coverage limit, any judgment rendered against Pildner in the civil action.

Appellant, State Farm, refused to defend the action on the basis that under the terms of the policy the insurer was not obligated to defend any suit against the insured seeking damages on account of bodily injury from causes to which the insurance does not apply. Appellant maintains that intentional wounding was excluded from coverage under the following terms of the policy:

"This policy does not apply:

"* * *

"(f) to bodily injury or property damage which is either expected or intended from the standpoint of the insured."

State Farm filed a declaratory judgment action in the Court of Common Pleas after refusing to defend Pildner in the Bryans' suit against him, joining Pildner and the Bryans.

Pildner filed a motion to dismiss this declaratory judgment action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. He asserted that the Bryans' complaint contained no allegation that Pildner intended to wound Bryan and that, where there has never been an admission of guilt by a defendant, a criminal conviction for intentional shooting is not admissible evidence in the civil action, and Pildner has a right to be defended against a claim of negligence under the terms of the policy.

The Court of Common Pleas sustained Pildner's motion to dismiss and subsequently sustained a similar motion by the Bryans. The Bryans' motion raised the same arguments as did that filed by Pildner, and the Court of Common Pleas, in dismissing appellant's complaint, based dismissal upon the fact that a criminal conviction is not conclusive evidence in a civil case on the same issue. It was from this dismissal that an appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals.

Two questions of law were raised in that court: (1) Is a criminal conviction a fact which cannot be considered by a court in a declaratory judgment action, and (2) does the doctrine of mutuality of estoppel or any other doctrine bar the use of a prior criminal conviction in every civil proceeding?

The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Common Pleas on the ground that the complaint in this action did show the existence of a justiciable controversy and that a determination of rights, whether or not favorable to the complainant, would terminate at least part of the uncertainty concerning the duty to defend. The Court of Appeals, however, declared Ohio law "* * * to be that the sole fact of a Common Pleas Court conviction and sentence of the insured for the crime `shooting with intent to wound' is not, in and of itself, finally determinative in law of the separate issues of whether the injury or damage was expected or intended from the standpoint of the insured."

The cause is now before this court pursuant to the allowance of appellant's motion to certify the record.

Messrs. Carson, Vogelgesang, Sheehan Banas and Mr. Philip E. Howes, for appellant.

Messrs. Ross Ross, Mr. Joseph W. Calabretta, Messrs. Grant Steiner and Mr. Donald C. Steiner, for appellees.

Appellant, State Farm Casualty Company, maintains that the suit against its insured, Pildner, is excluded from coverage under its homeowner's policy because the injury suffered by the appellee Bryan was intentionally inflicted by the insured. Appellant urges that the insured's conviction of the crime of intentional wounding is admissible to prove the exclusion from coverage, and appellant asks, therefore, that this court declare that appellant is not obligated to defend the insured in the suit giving rise to this action.

It is not necessary for this court to consider the question of the admissibility of the insured's conviction of "intentional wounding." The duty of an insurer, under a policy of liability insurance, to defend an action against an insured is dependent upon the scope of the allegations of the complaint in the action against the insured. Where the allegations of the complaint bring the action within the coverage of the policy, the insurer is required to defend, regardless of the ultimate outcome or its liability to the insured. Motorists Mutual v. Trainor (1973), 33 Ohio St.2d 41; Lessak v. Metropolitan Cas. Ins. Co. (1958), 168 Ohio St. 153; Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. v. Continental Cas. Co. (1945), 144 Ohio St. 382; Bloom-Rosenblum-Kline Co. v. Union Indemnity Co. (1929), 121 Ohio St. 220.

In the present case, the Bryans' complaint alleges only negligent injury. Appellant admits that liability for negligent injury is within the scope of coverage under the terms of its homeowner's policy, and appellant has a duty to defend the insured in that action. The Court of Common Pleas was, therefore, correct in dismissing appellant's complaint for declaratory judgment for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, since no facts giving rise to a justiciable controversy were presented in the complaint.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is, therefore, reversed.

Judgment reversed.


Public policy in this state, as represented by the four Ohio Supreme Court cases cited in the majority opinion, requires that an insurance company's duty to defend an insured against a civil action be ascertained solely from the allegations of the complaint. In determining the existence or nonexistence of this duty, neither the outcome of the litigation nor the ultimate liability of the insurer is relevant. By informing the insured that it is reserving its right to assert noncoverage, the insurance company can defend the action without waiving this right. Therefore, I agree with the judgment and the general language of the syllabus of this case. However, I believe that this court must recognize the ethical problem which this rule creates for the insurance company's counsel.

The insurance company can assert noncoverage by refusing to pay any judgment rendered against the insured in the damage action, thus forcing the judgment creditor to utilize the procedure set forth in R.C. 3929.06 for collecting money from an insurance company. In a R.C. 3929.06 proceeding, the insurance company can assert against the judgment creditor any defense which it has against the insured. Bennett v. Swift Co. (1959), 170 Ohio St. 168, 163 N.E.2d 362.

Canon 5 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, as adopted by this court on October 5, 1970, states that "a lawyer should exercise independent professional judgment on behalf of a client." This rule is made more specific by E.C. 5-14, which states:

The Code is published in 23 Ohio St. 2d.

"Maintaining the independence of professional judgment required of a lawyer precludes his acceptance or continuation of employment that will adversely affect his judgment on behalf of or dilute his loyalty to a client. This problem arises whenever a lawyer is asked to represent two or more clients who may have differing interests, whether such interests be conflicting, inconsistent, diverse, or otherwise discordant."

E.C. 5-17 specifically lists among "typically recurring situations involving potentially differing interests" a lawyer representing an insured and his insurer. This factual pattern exists whenever an insurance company which asserts noncoverage is allowed to select an attorney to represent an insured in a damage action.

If the insurance company does not assert noncoverage, there is no conflict between the insurer and the insured who is being sued, and hence the counsel selected by the insurance company could ethically defend the insured. However, in the present case the insurer alleges that the insured intentionally caused the injuries which are the basis of the damage suit, and that, therefore, his actions are outside the scope of the insurance policy. In such case, although the company has a duty to defend the insured, there is an undeniable conflict between the insurance company and the insured. The insured, if he cannot totally escape liability, will desire to show that his liability is based on negligent conduct which is covered by his insurance policy. The insurance company will, on the other hand, desire to prove that the insured's actions were intentional and hence not within the scope of the policy. Under these facts, I believe that D.R. 5-105, which is mandatory, dictates that the insurance company not be allowed to select counsel to defend the insured. The adversity between the insurance company and the insured, coupled with the pressure which the insurance company could exert on counsel selected by it, simply presents too great a possibility that that counsel's loyalty to the insured will be diluted.

Preface to the Code of Professional Responsibility, 38 Ohio St. 2 d, at XXV.

The insurance company, when it notifies an insured who is being sued that it denies coverage, should invite the insured to select his own counsel to represent him in the damage action. If the action is one in which the insurance company has a duty to defend, reasonable attorney fees and other proper costs incurred by the insured in making his defense will ultimately have to be assumed by the insurance company. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. v. Continental Cas. Co. (1945), 144 Ohio St. 382, 59 N.E.2d 199.

Summaries of

State Farm Fire Cas. Co. v. Pildner

Supreme Court of Ohio
Dec 31, 1974
40 Ohio St. 2d 101 (Ohio 1974)
Case details for

State Farm Fire Cas. Co. v. Pildner

Case Details


Court:Supreme Court of Ohio

Date published: Dec 31, 1974


40 Ohio St. 2d 101 (Ohio 1974)
321 N.E.2d 600

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