Crime Does Not Allow Insurer to Pay

Withholding Coverage for Criminal Acts Disincentivizes Criminal Conduct

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Safeway Insurance Company sought supervisory writs from the judgment of the lower court which denied its motion for summary judgment. In Damien Harris v. Safeway Insurance Company Of Louisiana And Justin Rossette, No. CW 23-165, Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit (October 25, 2023) the Louisiana Court of Appeals resolved an insurance coverage dispute over a criminal acts exclusion.


After a motor vehicle accident which occurred on April 10, 2019 in Abbeville, Louisiana. Plaintiff, Damien Harris, a passenger in a 2009 Toyota Camry being driven by Defendant, Justin Rossette, collided with a pickup truck while the Toyota was running from the polices. The Camry was covered by an automobile insurance policy issued by Safeway.

Officers from the Abbeville Police Department were in pursuit of Rossette with sirens and lights on the police cars were activated and the facts establish this was a high-speed pursuit.  Rossette ignored a stop sign at the intersection and collided with the vehicle being driven by Aaron T. Durke. Rossette was arrested for aggravated flight from an officer and possession of narcotics at the scene of the accident.

Plaintiff sustained multiple injuries. Safeway denied coverage based on a policy exclusion clause included in their standard contracts for criminal acts.

Following the denial of coverage, Plaintiff filed suit against Safeway and Rossette for damages arising from the motor vehicle accident. Plaintiff and Safeway filed cross motions for summary judgment on the coverage issues. Both motions were denied.


Safeway argued that at the time of the collision, Rossette was engaged in and/or committing several criminal acts. Safeway noted that before the collision occurred, Rossette had been chased by numerous police cars for several blocks through parts of Abbeville. Safeway also noted that Rossette disregarded several stop signs, was speeding excessively, and the specific cause of the collision was Rossette ignoring another stop sign at the intersection. Therefore, Safeway argued Rossette was in the commission of a crime under La.R.S. 14:108.1.

Plaintiff countered that Rossette was not engaging in a criminal act in the moments right before the collision.

Although coverage exclusions generally do not comport with the policy of granting protection for injured persons, the exclusions in the Safeway policy served a separate public policy interest of prohibiting persons from insuring themselves against their own intentional or criminal acts. Withholding insurance coverage for intentional or criminal acts helps to disincentivize such conduct, which in turn serves the purpose of eliminating reckless and irresponsible drivers from the highways.

Whether Rossette was contemplating discontinuing the flight from police as the trial court implied, the facts are clear that the accident occurred immediately after he again ran through a stop sign and collided with Mr. Durke. There was no question of fact that Rossette ran into Mr. Durke’s vehicle while intentionally fleeing from a police officer, which is a crime.

The Safeway policy in this case clearly provides that damages arising out of the use of an automobile “while being operated or used in the preparation to commit a crime, commission of a crime, and/or flight from a crime, other than a traffic violation,” are excluded from coverage.

Safeway’s writ application was , therefore, granted and summary judgment in favor of Safeway was ordered.


Liability Insurance, by definition, provides coverage for fortuitous or accidental events. Running from the police in a high speed chase while blowing through stop signs and colliding with an innocent driver is a criminal act in Louisiana. That the driver had a subjective intent to avoid the accident was convicted of multiple crimes that resulted in the injuries that were the subject of Mr. Harris’s injuries. There was no fortuity and the acts of Mr. Rossette were criminal and excluded.

(c) 2023 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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