No Coverage for Paintball Gun Injury After Notice Delay to Insurance Company

Here, the fact that two experienced lawyers were unsure if the policy would apply to the incident is persuasive that the provision for possible coverage was not generally known. The rules of contract interpretation, however, do not permit an exception to generally applicable notice requirements where the implicated coverage provision of the policy is unexpected, but is written in clear and definitive language.

Because the father is presumed to have read and understood his policy, he is charged with knowledge of its contents. Given the applicable policy language, it is objectively reasonable that the father should have known that the policy would have covered the incident. The fact that the incident occurred in a different county and not on property owned by the homeowners does not excuse them from the applicable notice provision of the policy. There is no basis in law for the homeowners to believe a claim would not be made against them.

The question here is, would a man of ordinary prudence and intelligence have known, at the conclusion of the criminal action against the son, that the victim’s injury was sufficiently serious to implicate a claim which the policy would cover? The answer to that question must be “yes.”

The victim was shot in the eye with a projectile which was fired using compressed carbon dioxide.

The son had been shooting paintballs earlier at a companion’s feet, indicating he was aware of the damage they could cause if aimed at vital organs. The son knew the victim was injured while the son was unloading his paintballs and felt guilty after the incident, indicating he knew it was a paintball that hit the victim and not flying debris from some other source.

The eye was red and swollen, and the victim eventually left to take some pain relievers. When coupled with his knowledge that the victim eventually sought medical attention and the medical bills totaled over $3,000, the belief that the injury was not sufficiently serious was objectively unreasonable.

Because the duty to give notice arose, at the latest date — over a year before notice was actually given — the next question is whether the delay was material and substantial.

The parties all agree the delay was substantial. In light of the analysis regarding the objectively unreasonable belief that no claim for civil damages would lie, as well as the 378-day delay in notifying State Farm about the incident, even if State Farm suffered no prejudice as a result of the delay, Virginia law compels the conclusion that the delay was material.

State Farm should be excused from its obligations under the policy.