Criminal Conviction Proves Facts, and Relieves Insurer (MVAIC) of Liability (NY)

In Brooks v. Rivera, plaintiffs were standing on a sidewalk when they were stuck by an uninsured car driven by defendant. In a subsequent criminal prosecution, defendant plead guilty to felony assault and reckless felony assault. Plaintiffs commenced a civil action against defendant and a nonparty Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation (MVAIC). As an aside, MVAIC provides coverage/benefits to a New York resident injured in a motor vehicle accident who does not have any other auto insurance available to him. Even after two criminal convictions, the lower court held that plaintiffs were not the victims of an intentional tort and directed the nonparty MVAIC to appear and defend on behalf of uninsured defendant.

The Appellate Term, First Department reversed the order and held that a criminal conviction is conclusive proof of the underlying facts in a subsequent civil action and collaterally estops a party from relitigating the issue. Defendant’s guilty pleas to both intentional and reckless felony assault precluded a finding that defendant’s actions were not intentional, thus relieving the MVAIC of its liability to the uninsured defendant. Under its policy, MVAIC is only required to defend an uninsured for his negligent acts.

A defendant may have civil liability to those he injures, but that will not create a duty on the insurer for a defendant’s intentional acts that cause harm. A conviction proving intent is enough to relieve the insurer of involvement in a subsequent civil suit.

Thanks to Anne Mulcahy for her contribution to this post. If you have any questions, please email Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.com.