The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Arm Yourself With the Right Insurance

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Illustrations by Sarah Watanabe-Rocco

Unforeseen events can often happen involving the guns we own. You may be forced to fire on an intruder who later sues you for excessive use of force. A gun you could have sworn you locked up might get stolen and used in a shooting or found by a neighbor’s child who accidentally injures himself with it. Are these situations really too far-fetched to happen to you? Shouldn’t you prepare for them? Time to start thinking about having the right insurance to protect yourself from legal recourse.

The situations that can happen involving a firearm run a wide gamut of possibilities. Don’t assume that acting in self-defense will automatically preclude you from potential litigation. Even if you’re found innocent in a criminal trial, you may be sued in civil court. Both cases will cost you a great deal of money and time, and are adjudicated under different conditions. The outcome of a criminal case is determined by what’s proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The outcome of a civil case, on the other hand, is determined by a preponderance of evidence. Situations of self-defense can also result in the defendant being held in jail pending the outcome of their trial.

Do Your Research
So, where do you start? No one looks forward to shopping for insurance, especially when you don’t know what to ask for or what to avoid. Homeowners insurance policies can be limited in provisions that they offer for firearms-related occurrences. When it comes to broadening your existing coverage, it’s time you thought about buying additional insurance in the form of a personal liability umbrella policy (PLUP). The coverage a PLUP can offer enhances potential areas of exposure and is usually relatively inexpensive, depending on the amount of coverage you want. Coverage can typically range from $250,000 to $25 million. To give you a ballpark idea of cost, for the price of a few boxes of ammo — around $100 to $200 a month — you can procure $1 million to $5 million dollars worth of coverage that could encompass your home, car, boat, and so on.

Personal liability relates to losses that originate on your property or with your property. For example, a guest falls down your stairs and hurts themselves, or a grand piano that you send off for repair falls off the truck hauling it and strikes a kid on a bicycle. Depending on various hypothetical factors, these instances would likely be covered by a PLUP.

However, with firearms, do not assume you’ll be covered, even in cases where you have demonstrated justifiable self-defense. “Under most, but not all modern homeowners and umbrella policies, if the insured intentionally pulls the trigger there’s not going to be any insurance coverage for a claim for injuries by somebody who gets hit by a bullet,” says Duke Wahlquist, a California attorney with 25 years of insurance coverage and business litigation experience. “The insured will be running up against typical policy language that will not cover the insured unless the bodily injury results from an accident, and typical language doesn’t have an exception for cases in which injury is justifiably rendered in self-defense. Most insurers don’t want to pay those claims. Obviously, policy language matters. For instance, California’s Courts of Appeal have affirmed coverage denials in shooting cases on the basis that there was no ‘accident’ and hence no ‘occurrence’ as the policies define that term.”

When it comes to policy language, definitions of terms such as “accident” or “occurrence” can be subjective if they’re not specifically defined in the policy and potentially counterintuitive even when they are defined. If you’re uncertain about the firearms coverage offered by a company you’re prospecting, ask as many questions as you can that specifically relate to your concerns. “Don’t try and be a lawyer and interpret policies. Request an agent with at least 20 years of experience. Ask them when coverage would be denied. Ask for examples of denied coverage. Be very specific and pin them down a bit. Make sure they answer everything to your satisfaction before you purchase a policy,” says Jason Squires, an Arizona attorney specializing in criminal defense and civil action.

Shop around with reputable companies that have agents you can speak to directly…not companies where you’re wandering in the endless wilderness of websites. If firearms and related incidents are your greatest concern, search for a PLUP policy that specifically covers those areas. Investigate what provisions various companies offer and assess cost versus coverage. Certain companies may insist you get firearms training to bind the coverage. Since this may give you an advantage by showing you’re a responsible gun owner during potential litigation, don’t scoff at it. “These policies are also great for kids. Your entire fortune may be tied to your children’s actions, firearms related or not,” says Squires.

How much coverage do you need? As a rule of thumb, “a person should get 10 times their annual salary in coverage,” says Squires. In occurrences related to self-defense and accidents, there’s no way to accurately forecast a requisite amount of coverage. Even though you might think the chance of needing coverage in those areas is unlikely, if you still have to admit to yourself there’s a distinct possibility, best to get as much as you think you can afford. Just as there is in owning a boat, there’s a degree of risk in owning a gun. When you increase risk, you should also consider increasing coverage. When selecting a policy, don’t cheap out.

There can also be cases of potential liability where you would be exposed if you simply contributed in some fashion to the shooting. If your gun is stolen because your house was unlocked and later used in a shooting, you may face at least partial liability, even though you were the victim of theft. “If you’re going to own a gun, think of it as your pet tiger. If it bites someone, you can be responsible,” Squires says. Don’t shoot the messenger — we’re not saying it’s right, but it’s the reality.

Policy language, and sometimes statutes, typically eliminates any coverage on what they refer to as “intentional” or “willful” acts. But what are intentional acts? These also tend to be defined by the insurance provider. Insurance companies assess risk for a living and won’t put themselves in positions to cover acts that could have been avoided. An accident is not an intentional act, but negligence on the part of the insured can be subject to many variables.

Use of Force
In the event of self-defense, you’re probably asking yourself if any potential liability would be covered. It depends. While having to fire on an intruder because you felt your life was in imminent danger is deliberate, it was not premeditated. Some fictitious situations to put this in context are as follows:

Situation One: You’re home alone at 2 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon. You hear a window break and see someone entering your home. You grab your gun and confront the intruder whom you recognize as the 14-year-old neighborhood drug addict. He appears to be unarmed and in the process of leaving your home with your computer under his arm. You fire on this intruder, claiming that you were in fear for your life, severely injuring him.

Situation Two: You are at home alone at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning. You hear a window break and see someone entering your home. You immediately call the police and give them your, name, address, an assessment of the situation, and tell them you’re in fear for your life. You stay on the phone and hide in the corner of your room with a loaded firearm. You hear steps coming toward you. The intruder, whom you don’t recognize, enters the room you’re hiding in. You tell him that you have a loaded gun and if he approaches you that you’ll fire. As he continues toward you, disregarding your warning, you fire and severely injure him.

If the teenager’s mother or intruder number two sue you in civil court and you have insurance that specifically covers acts of self-defense using a firearm, you may not be out of the woods yet. Your insurer might refuse to pay your legal expenses or, even if it does pay your legal defenses, refuse to pay a judgment that might be entered against you. If you take your insurer to court, you’ll have to convince a jury that your fear was genuine — and if you’ve already lost the case against you, that may be difficult.

While many other factors will impact the verdict, including state laws, in Situation One you may have lower odds not only of winning the mother’s lawsuit against you, but also of winning your suit against the insurer. Why? For one thing, you didn’t immediately alert authorities. We live in a society where many folks consider it the responsibility of the police to do the dirty work. Also, you didn’t avoid the situation. Why would you confront a situation you claimed to be in fear of? Lastly, the intruder appeared to be and was ultimately unarmed, and leaving your property, not presenting a lethal threat. “It’s your responsibility to know what’s legal and what’s not legal in self-defense. All the same issues crop up when you intentionally use force in your home. Whether you act with a baseball bat or a knife or you unleash your dog to attack the intruder, the same laws apply,” says Wahlquist. Again, we’re simply presenting the reality that you’ll face here, not weighing in on what law abiding citizens ought to be expected to do in these situations.

Be smart, practice home-invasion drills (see “Safe House” in RECOIL Issue 8), avoid an armed confrontation if possible, and call the authorities. The more you do to demonstrate you handled the situation in a level-headed manner, the better your chances if the situation goes to court. And if it does go to court, having the right insurance will better your odds even more. You can’t defend your family and property from a prison cell.

The Gray Area

A Defense Attorney Examines and Compares Policies

By Jason Squires

Shooting insurance? There are several types of insurance available on the market. For example, there’s life, health, auto, and homeowners — even insurance on ATVs and motorcycles. But is there an insurance policy in the event that you use a firearm defending yourself? The answer: Yes.

So, to simplify this concept there are three types of insurance:
> Theft: You’ve been robbed. How much theft coverage do you have for the stolen items?
> Personal Liability: e.g. Negligence related to a firearm, usually at your home.
> Self-Defense: Legal fees to avoid or defend against criminal prosecution following a self-defense encounter.

The NRA offers Personal Firearms Liability Insurance. For about $200 a year, a person can purchase a policy directly from the NRA that adds $1 million of coverage to any liability policy. This policy is tailor made for shooters, collectors, and hunters. Let’s review what’s generally covered for the average person and what a responsible person can do to supplement their standard coverage.

The NRA also offers Self-Defense Insurance, in case you’re charged with an alleged crime involving a firearm and self-defense. The coverage reimburses for cost of criminal defense representation. This means you pay first and then submit a claim to be reimbursed for the cost of your lawyer following criminal charges — so keep in mind that you’ll be out-of-pocket until then.

State Farm, Farmers, Allstate, and any insurance carrier that offers homeowners insurance will typically have a personal liability coverage associated with the policy. This portion of the policy, usually up to $100,000, covers the insured from a broad range of issues where someone might try and sue. This liability coverage is usually associated with the home, such as if your tree falls over the fence and crushes the neighbor’s car, the neighbor’s kid falls out of the tree house in the backyard, etc. All of these examples have the home as the “scene.” But, homeowner policies can also cover dog bites and some firearms issues.

What’s the Intent?
Some homeowner policies do not cover “intentional” acts. If you pull the trigger while defending yourself, is that “intentional?” Now, we’re starting to get into the gray area — the real reason we need insurance in this complicated society. To keep the concept simple, “intentional” usually means premeditated, but the law and exclusions vary from state to state. An example from one of my cases: wife shoots and kills husband, then husband’s family sues to collect from the insurance carrier. The insurance company responded, “No, we’re not paying because the act was intentional.” This might appear a remote possibility; however, these lawsuits are becoming routine, almost standard. In this example, the husband had minor children from a previous marriage that were orphaned. The husband’s elderly mother was trying to collect any money possible to assist with raising the children. These lawsuits are common and protecting yourself is prudent — consider purchasing insurance policies designed to protect you from “evil” lawsuits.

But watch out — some policies exclude any coverage related to any use of a firearm. The homeowner might receive coverage in the event a firearms collection is stolen (usually a very small amount, around $5,000 total for all firearms). But, some insurance companies will deny any claim related to the misuse of a firearm. It’s important to check with your insurance carrier to determine your policy coverage.

Want to protect yourself? Let’s stop and reflect. We’re all busy. We all have better things to do with our time than get out the magnifying glass and read the fine print of our insurance policies. Still, set aside one afternoon this coming month to make a call to your insurance carrier and find out precisely the extent of your firearms coverage. If you appear annoying, say your naggy lawyer made you call.

Back on point: what sort of coverage should you seek? First, investigate a personal liability umbrella policy (“PLUP”). Most PLUPs add $1 million in coverage to all policies. For instance, a $100,000 per person/$300,000 per occurrence liability coverage would add $1 million in insurance coverage to your car, house, boat, R.V., etc. The pricing of this sort of policy is usually around $350 to $1,000 per year, or $30 to $100 a month.
Even after obtaining a PLUP, you might want greater coverage. “Want” might not be the most precise word choice, since no one likes insurance. The idea behind insurance is that the policy holder is paying ongoing fees in return for coverage if and when a tragedy strikes, while the insurance carrier hopes to never have to pay you a dime.

There are some exciting new trends in the form of insurance designed exclusively for the firearms enthusiast in mind. Companies like the Armed Citizens Defense Network offer a policy that will pay your attorney in the event you are charged with a crime following a self-defense encounter. While your insurance company is trying to decide if it has any exposure following a shooting, the Armed Citizen’s Defense Network will actively try to get you a lawyer and get you released from jail. This is similar to the NRA Self-Defense Insurance policy, except the Armed Citizen’s Defense Network will immediately send you money for your attorney, rather than requiring you to seek reimbursement.

To compare the two policies: With the NRA policy, you pay attorney fees out of pocket, then later request reimbursement for your legal expenses. With the Armed Citizen’s Defense Network, you’re provided with $10,000 almost immediately to run out and hire your own lawyer. The key difference is obviously the need to come up with large sums of money following a disaster where you were charged with a crime.

The NRA Self-Defense Insurance has policies that begin at $165 annually for $100,000 in coverage. The policy tops out at $1,000,000 for $600 annually. This is competitive with the Armed Citizen’s Defense Network. In conclusion, we discussed three types of insurance: theft, liability, and self-defense.

The NRA offers the broadest spectrum of coverage, including personal Firearms Liability Insurance and/or Self-Defense Insurance. Providers like the Armed Citizen’s Defense Network accord added coverage to begin almost immediately following a self-defense encounter where the police suspect the defender of committing a crime. I urge you to make sure you have adequate coverage in all three areas.

About the Author
Jason Squires is an attorney in Arizona with over 20 years of defense experience. In his off-time he competes across the nation in three-gun competitions. In full disclosure, Jason Squires has purchased several of the insurance policies listed above.

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