No duty to defend parents under homeowners policy for claims arising out of minor’s motor vehicle accident


car crash; airbag; car; auto accident

By: Michael B. Weinberg

In the matter of Liberty Ins. Corp. v. Johnson, 306 A.3d 1143 (Conn. App. 2023), the Court of Appeals of Connecticut held that a homeowners insurer had no duty to defend insured-parents for actions of their son stemming from a motor vehicle accident. In the underlying case, it was alleged that Aaron Johnson, a minor, drank alcohol at a bar and then returned to his parents’ home. Once there, Aaron continued to drink alcohol before leaving the home in a vehicle owned by his father. While driving, Aaron lost control of the vehicle and struck a telephone pole, causing injury to Jordan Torres, a passenger with him in the vehicle.  

Torres brought an action against the bar as well as against Theodore and Kim Johnson, Aaron’s parents. Torres alleged that the Johnsons were negligent in allowing Aaron to consume alcohol while at the family’s home, furnishing alcohol to a minor, allowing Aaron to leave home despite his apparent intoxication, allowing Aaron to operate a vehicle despite lacking competence, failing to halt Aaron’s possession and consumption of alcohol, and failing to supervise both Aaron and his guests in the home.  

The Johnsons then filed the instant suit seeking a declaration of coverage owed to them under their Liberty Insurance homeowners policy. They argued that if “any one of the [specified allegations] could support a claim for coverage,” the homeowners policy should apply. The trial court found for Liberty Insurance on its motion for summary judgment, citing the policy’s exclusion for claims for bodily injury arising from the use of a motor vehicle and exclusion for vicarious liability. 

On appeal, the Johnsons argued, inter alia, that the trial court failed to recognize that the negligence allegations against them were distinct from Aaron’s use of a motor vehicle and those allegations could support a claim that falls within coverage under the policy. The Court of Appeals disagreed, explaining that “[t]he appropriate inquiry for determining whether the motor vehicle exclusion applies . . . is whether there is a sufficient causal link between the bodily injuries claimed in the Torres action and the use of a motor vehicle[.]”  

The Court then concluded that Torres’ injuries could not have resulted only from the negligent acts of the Johnsons while in their home. Instead, “the operative event that gave rise to the injuries and damages sustained by Torres, as alleged in the complaint, was the motor vehicle accident.”  Accordingly, the Court held that the motor vehicle exclusion precluded coverage and Liberty had no duty to defend. 

For more information, please contact Michael Weinberg at or your local FMG attorney.