Concealed carry insurance coverage
Aug 30, 2017 | PCI360 | Christine G. Barlow, CPCU
Homeowners insurance may cover damages stemming from an incident where the owner is legally liable, but not criminally charged. (Photo: Shutterstock)
While most Americans have probably not read the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, most are familiar with certain sections, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to bear arms.
Americans love their guns and are proud to own and carry them. Estimates indicate that there are roughly 300 million guns owned by Americans. Many states have “shoot first” or “stand your ground” laws, allowing someone legally carrying a firearm to shoot first and ask questions later if they fear for their lives. What happens next though?
An individual legally carrying a weapon who shoots someone, even in self-defense, may very well be arrested and have to appear in court, and may even face criminal charges. The homeowners policy provides a defense if the insured is legally liable but will not defend criminal charges, nor do most carriers have special advisory teams to advise the insured on what to do once arrested.
Gun insurance available
Fortunately for those legally carrying guns, insurance for such actions is available. The United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) provides a policy for its members designed to provide immediate assistance after an incident. Limits range from $250,000 to $1,000,000 for civil suit defense, damages, and firearm theft coverage; $50,000 to $125,000 for attorney retainer and up-front criminal defense; $2,500 to $100,000 immediate bail bond funding; and $250 to $500 a day for compensation while in court.
The insured is to call the carrier immediately after calling the police. A crisis response team will advise the insured on what to say or not to say to the police, coordinate bail, retain an attorney for the insured, and provide support throughout the situation until the end.
The policy form advises the insured to call 911 after a shooting and state he was afraid for his life and had to defend himself, and to request police and an ambulance. Then the insured is to call the crisis team. Once the police arrive, the insured is advised to repeat that he was attacked, feared for his life and had to defend himself, point out evidence and witnesses, and state that he will cooperate fully but needs his attorney present.
Much of the policy uses common ISO policy language. Where it varies is the coverage for immediate retention of an attorney and bail bond funding, criminal defense, and coverage for civil suit defense and damages.
Coverage applies when the insured is liable for damages or injury that arise out of an “act of self-defense,” or “covered legal liability” arising out of a non-insured’s use of a stolen “safeguarded firearm,” firearm from a “secured location” or “secured auto,” or taken from the “personal possession” of the insured arising out of a robbery. An “act of self-defense” is just that, the act of defending one’s person or others by the actual or threatened use of a firearm or other weapon that is “legally possessed.” The policy is not looking to defend those with illegal weapons.
Liability from use of stolen firearm
“Covered legal liability” applies to liability arising out of a non-insured’s use of a stolen firearm. The firearm must have been secured before the theft, either with its operation disabled by a trigger lock or other mechanism, being locked in a vehicle out of sight from the outside of the auto, or from a locked residence or office. The theft of the firearm must be reported immediately upon discovery. Coverage will not apply if the police trace the gun to the insured only to have the insured say he noticed the gun missing two weeks ago but hadn’t gotten around to calling it in. Gun owners are supposed to be very responsible when it comes to their weapons.
Criminal acts are naturally excluded. Even if the insured legally owns a gun, using it to shoot a spouse’s lover will not be covered unless there was an altercation and the insured feared for his life. Simply using it to end the affair while the lover is asleep is not covered. Also, if the insured is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and uses the gun to inflict injury or property damage, there is no coverage. Again, the insured is expected to be responsible with his weapon, and if the insured is under the influence and starts shooting at tin cans on the back fence in the middle of suburbia, riddling the neighbor’s house with bullets, there is no coverage.
There are limits to what a homeowners policy will cover when there are claims involving the use of a gun. (Photo: Shutterstock)
The National Rifle Association (NRA) also has a policy available with limits from $100,000 to $1,000,000 for liability coverage and $50,000 to $100,000 for criminal defense. The main policy is geared toward coverage for truly accidental shootings when the insured is hunting or trapping on public or private land; shooting at competitions or for recreation at hunt clubs, gun clubs or supervised commercial or private ranges; or other shooting as long as it is an “accidental discharge” and not prohibited by any local, state or federal law.
“Accidental discharge” is defined as the firing of a firearm, air gun, or bow and arrow when the insured did not intend to fire. If the insured is cleaning his firearm and the weapon discharges, that is an “accidental discharge.” The policy does not cover self-defense, however, that coverage can be added by endorsement. An “act of self-defense” is defined as the use of a “legally possessed firearm” in compliance with local, state or federal laws in defending oneself, others or one’s property.
Also included is the rendering of emergency assistance, but only when such assistance is given at the request of a uniformed law enforcement officer. A “legally possessed firearm” is one owned by the insured in compliance with any local, state or federal law where the injury or damage occurs. Coverage is excess over any other coverage.
Defense of lawsuits
The policy agrees to pay defense of suits against the insured, premiums on bonds up to the limits of liability, and reimburse the insured for reasonable expenses other than loss of earnings. Expenses are not considered part of “damages” as defined. The obligation to defend suits ends when the insured is convicted of a criminal charge for the use of the firearm. If criminal charges are dismissed, the carrier will reimburse the insured for reasonable costs and expenses of his defense up to the defense reimbursement limit shown on the declarations.
The homeowners policy provides coverage for injury or damage caused by an “occurrence” the insured is legally liable for. An “occurrence” is an accident that results in bodily injury or property damage. Intentional acts are excluded, but there is an exception for using reasonable force to protect persons or property. Reasonable force is not defined, so that is open to interpretation.
An insured with a concealed carry permit is best protected by obtaining an insurance policy designed for such exposures. While the homeowners policy affords some protection, it is not geared towards that type of liability coverage nor the type of defense that may be needed.