The Four Corners Rule Strikes Again.

AuthorZalma, Barry
Position[ON MY RADAR]

* It is axiomatic that the duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify. However, every liability policy excludes coverage for the intentional act of shooting a plaintiff in the stomach with a gun. However, in Pennsylvania, where the four corners rule of policy interpretation applies, when a plaintiff alleges both intentional and negligent acts, regardless of actual facts, the insurer must defend the shooter. In Michael D'Imperio v. Nationwide General Insurance Company A/K/A Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company A/K/A Nationwide Property And Casualty Insurance Company, No. 1474 EDA 2020, Superior Court of Pennsylvania (July 13, 2021) evidence extrinsic to the complaint established that the insured intentionally shot the plaintiff since his suit alleged both accidental and intentional acts, the potential for coverage existed and Nationwide was required to defend.

Nationwide General Insurance Company appealed from the judgment entered in favor of Michael D'Imperio, following a non-jury trial.


In the DiBello complaint, Mr. DiBello alleged that [Appellee] intentionally fired a gun at Mr. DiBello. Mr. DiBello alternatively alleged that [Appellee] "carelessly fir[ed] a gun in the vicinity of a crowd of people," "creat[ed] a trap and/or nuisance and/or dangerous condition," and "fail[ed] to properly control a firearm."

Nationwide insures [Appellee] pursuant to a homeowner's policy ("the Policy"). The Nationwide homeowners policy provides liability coverage to [Appellee]. The policy excluded coverage caused by an act intending to cause harm done by or at the direction of any insured.

The trial court entered a decision in favor of Appellee requiring Nationwide to defend.

Appellant argued that the trial court erred in concluding that Appellant had a duty to defend Appellee in the DiBello action based on the allegations in the DiBello complaint. However, under Pennsylvania law, the duty to defend is governed by the allegations of the complaint in the underlying action. Appellant claimed that the factual allegations of the DiBello complaint indicates that Appellee acted intentionally by accosting DiBello and firing his gun at DiBello.

Nationwide argued, logically, that to claim that Appellee aiming his handgun at DiBello and firing a shot was an accident "strains common sense." However, the four corners rule effectively eliminates common sense and limits an appellate courts work to the words of the complaint and orders the court to ignore...

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