Horvitz & Levy LLP successfully defended a summary judgment granted in favor of an insurer in this dispute over coverage under a homeowners policy for one neighbor’s lawsuit against another for unlawfully trimming the plaintiff neighbor’s trees.
The insured built a fence that obstructed her neighbor’s easement, enclosing a grove of her neighbor’s trees onto her side of the fence. She then hired contractors to cut back the trees. Her neighbor sued for trespass and damage to the trees. The insured tendered her neighbor’s complaint to her homeowners’ carrier, which denied coverage on the ground the tree cutting was not an accident. In the ensuring coverage dispute, the trial court held there was no potential for coverage for the deliberate cutting. The Court of Appeal affirmed, agreeing that the insured’s deliberate conduct of having the trees trimmed was not accidental. In so holding, the court rejected the insured’s argument that, while the cutting performed by her contractors may have been intended by her, there was nonetheless an accident because the amount of cutting her contractors did was “excessive” compared to what she had in mind. The court reasoned that the word “accident” refers to the nature of the conduct giving rise to the injury, not the scope of the conduct’s consequences.