Strategies, Challenges, and Answers

Voluntary Intoxication Does Not Eliminate Intent

As excuses go, it is pretty well worn: “I was so drunk that I didn’t really mean to hurt anyone”.  But in cases involving voluntary intoxication, it hasn’t been a very successful excuse when argued to courts.  And it didn’t work before the Nevada Supreme Court either.

96207_guinness In the case of Beckwith v. State Farm Cas. Co., 120 Nev. 23, 83 P.3d 275 (2004), the insured tries to takes this well worn excuse one step further.  The voluntarily intoxicated (but legally creative) insured said that he was so drunk that he was delusional and his delusions caused him to believe that he was acting in self-defense when he hit the claimant.  And because he believed he was acting in self defense, the intentional acts exclusion in his policy should not be enforced against him.  He wanted a defense and indemnity.

The Nevada Supreme Court wasn’t buying it.  The Court said that even if the insured didn’t intend to injure the victim, he did intend to strike him, even if it was in some imagined sense of self defense.  The court explained:

We take this opportunity to extend our holding in Mallin and reject appellants’ argument that Beckwith was unable to act intentionally as a result of his voluntary intoxication.  Whether Beckwith thought Reccelle was God or his evil master is of no matter because he admittedly struck Reccelle in the eye with the desire of getting away from him.  This is a non-accidental intentional act even if Beckwith did not intend to harm Reccelle.  Thus, we conclude that Beckwith’s act of striking Reccelle is not an occurrence under the insurance policy and is excluded from coverage under the policy language concerning intentional misconduct.  In this, we recognize Beckwith’s claims that the intentional-acts exclusion does not apply because, given his advanced state of intoxication, he did not intend to injure Reccelle and that, because he believed he acted in self-defense, his conduct was not malicious.  We reject this line of argument because the exclusion properly dovetails with the reasonable construction of the policy that an occurrence requires an accidental event.

The final outcome in the Beckwith case was that the insurance company owed no duty to defend or indemnify the insured.  A strong three person “minority” argued that there might be a set of circumstances in which a person lacked intent to act thus invoking at least a duty to defend until the facts could be discerned.