Insurance Claims in Molestation Cases

Time period of molestation can determine number of occurrences for insurance claims.

Church Law and Tax 1996-03-01


Key point. A child who is molested over a number of years may represent more than one “occurrence” of personal injury under a church insurance policy.

A federal appeals court ruled that several children who were molested over a number of years by two priests represented multiple “occurrences” under a church insurance policy. Two pedophile priests molested 31 children over a 7—year period. The priests were sued, along with their diocese, and a question arose as to the number of “occurrences” the numerous incidents of molestation represented under the diocese’s insurance policies. These policies provided insurance to the diocese on a “per occurrence” basis. The more occurrences that occurred, the more insurance coverage that was available. The court acknowledged that defining this term in the context of multiple acts of molestation occurring over several years is difficult: “An occurrence could be the church’s continuous negligent supervision of a priest, the negligent supervision of a priest with respect to each child, the negligent supervision of a priest with respect to each molestation, or each time the diocese became aware of a fact which should have led it to intervene, just to name a few possibilities.” The court added that “when a term in an insurance policy has uncertain application [the courts] interpret the policy in favor of the insured.” The court concluded that

When a priest molested a child during a policy year, thee was both bodily injury and an occurrence, triggering policy coverage. All further molestations of that child during the policy period arose out of the same occurrence. When the priest molested the same child during the succeeding policy year, again there was both bodily injury and an occurrence. Thus, each child suffered an occurrence in each policy period in which he was molested.

To illustrate, a child that was molested several times in each of seven different years represented seven different “occurrences” under the insurance policies. On the other hand, several incidents of molestation occurring within the same year represented only one occurrence. Society of Roman Catholic Church v. Interstate Fire & Casualty Co., 26 F.3d 1359 (5th Cir. 1994). [ Negligence as a Basis for Liability—Defenses]

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