No Insurance Coverage for Intentional Tree-Damage Claim

Shelly Albert owned land adjoining a parcel owned by Henri Baccouche. Both of their properties were subject to a roadway easement that provided access to a public road. In 2011, Baccouche filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Ms. Albert, claiming she built a fence over part of the roadway easement and over part of his property, which enclosed about 650 square feet of his parcel. And he claimed she excessively pruned six olive trees on the enclosed portion of his property and sought treble damages for his tree-related losses under Civil Code section 3346 and Code of Civil Procedure section 733.  Ms. Albert tendered the claim to Mid-Centrury Insurance Co., her insurer. Mid-Century, however, denied coverage on grounds that the claim arose from nonaccidental conduct on the part of Ms. Albert. After Ms. Albert filed suit against Mid-Century for breach of contract and insurance bad faith, the trial court granted Mid-Century’s motion for summary judgment.

The California Courts of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision. The insurance policy in question, like virtually all homeowners policies, states that it provides coverage only for “occurrences,” which is defined to mean accidents. Also, the policy excluded coverage for “intentional acts.” Ms. Albert argued that Mid-Century was obligated to provide her coverage on grounds that she alleged that Baccouche’s claim was arose from Ms. Albert’s tree trimmers exceeding the scope of her instructions. But the court found she did not present any evidence of this. The pleadings in Baccouche’s lawsuit did not allege this. And Mid-Century presented a recorded statement that Ms. Albert gave to her insurer, in which she failed to mention anything about her tree trimmer cutting more off the trees than she instructed. And even Ms. Albert’s  own declaration filed in connection with the summary judgment motions was silent on what instructions she gave the tree-service personnel and her supervision of them. With no evidence that Baccouche’s trespass and tree-damage claim arose from any accidental conduct, the court affirmed the judgment.