Landmark California Cases on Assault Exclusions in Liability Insurance Contracts

There is a plethora of case law interpreting and applying assault and battery exclusions in liability insurance contracts, including two California appellate court cases affirming summary judgment in favor of insurers relying on the exclusion. (See Zelda, Inc. v. Northland Ins. Co. (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 1252 (Zelda); Century Transit Systems, Inc. v. American Empire Surplus Lines Ins. Co. (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 121 (Century Transit).) The court rejected an argument, based on Gray v. Zurich Insurance Co. (1966) 65 Cal.2d 263, that "there was a potential for coverage because the conduct involved in the altercation may not have risen to assault or battery." (Zelda, supra, 56 Cal.App.4th at p. 1262.) "Appellants can escape the scope of the exclusion here only by speculating that both employee and customer engaged in merely negligent conduct, contrary to the complaints' allegations and the statements in the police report. However, 'an insured may not trigger the duty to defend by speculating about extraneous "facts" regarding potential liability or ways in which the third party claimant might amend its complaint at some future date.'" (Id. at pp. 1262-1263.)