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Court News Ohio

Second District: Jury Has to Weigh Whether Drunk Driver Intended to Harm Patrons When He Crashed Truck into Bar

A trial court must allow a jury to decide whether a Montgomery County man intended to injure people when he drove his pickup truck through a bar in 2012. The ruling from the Second District Court of Appeals last Friday overturns the trial court’s summary judgment for the man’s insurance company, which had denied coverage for medical expenses to two customers who were injured in the incident. The trial court had determined there were no factual issues that needed to be considered by a jury.

Marvin Schalk arrived at the Courtyard Lounge in Englewood late in the evening on Dec. 29. Schalk was a regular customer at the bar, and his estranged wife, Linda, was also there that night. Schalk drank heavily and was later asked to leave because he was acting inappropriately toward Linda. Schalk departed in his truck but then returned to the bar parking lot a few minutes later. It was about 2:30 a.m. and the bar was closed, but a few employees and patrons, including his wife, were still inside.

He texted Linda for about 20 minutes, expressing distress over their relationship and his life and stating he was going to “crash through the front door.” Thinking that Schalk was parked outside her residence, she responded that he should go home.

According to the police report, Schalk crashed his truck through the bar’s front window and into the building, colliding with tables and chairs and traveling across the 1,000-square-foot bar before stopping a few feet from the opposite wall of the lounge. Jerome Badders, who owned the bar, and his adult daughter, Tatyana Belenky, were injured in the mayhem, and the building was damaged extensively.

Man Sentenced to Prison, Insurance Company Files Suit
Schalk, whose blood alcohol level that night was three times the legal limit, pled guilty to felonious assault and vandalism. The court sentenced him to four years in prison and suspended his driver’s license for nine years. He also was ordered to pay restitution of nearly $3,900.

Following the filing of several lawsuits, Schalk’s auto insurer, State Farm Insurance Company, asked the trial court in October 2013 to decide the combined cases without a trial. State Farm maintained that it didn’t have to pay on property damage or injury claims because Schalk’s actions were intentional and therefore excluded from coverage under his policy. The company asserted the facts were undisputed and it was entitled to summary judgment. The trial court agreed in January 2014, and Badders and Belenky appealed.

Court Rules Jury Must Determine Driver’s Intent
Writing for the divided appeals court, Judge Jeffrey E. Froelich explained that the harm caused by an insured must be “intrinsically tied” to the insured’s intentional actions for a court to conclude there was an “intent to injure” in the legal sense. The standard requires more than an injury that was foreseeable or substantially certain to happen. A court can infer intent only if the intentional act couldn’t have been committed without causing harm, Judge Froelich noted.

“But if an insured puts a decoy in the middle of a curvy road or shoots a BB gun at a crowd or drives a truck into a building, bodily injury does not necessarily result; those intentional acts could occur without resultant bodily injury,” Judge Froelich wrote.

However, he reasoned that damaging the bar was intrinsically tied to Schalk’s actions, and the court affirmed summary judgment for State Farm on all property damage claims.

“[P]roperty damage does not necessarily result in bodily injury, and the question of intent to cause bodily injury is distinct,” Judge Froelich continued.We do not reach the question of whether Schalk did or did not intend bodily injury; we only conclude that there is a genuine issue of material fact which precludes the resolution of this question as a matter of law.”

Judge Jeffrey M. Welbaum joined Judge Froelich’s opinion and wrote separately to address a specific issue. Schalk’s case now returns to the trial court for a jury to decide whether Schalk intended to injure others by his conduct.

Dissent Concludes Driver Intended to Injure Patrons
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Michael T. Hall wrote the property damage and the injuries both were intrinsically tied to Schalk’s conduct, and Schalk’s actions necessarily resulted in the harm caused to the patrons and the building. Judge Hall would’ve affirmed the trial court’s decision denying coverage for the injuries to Badders and Belenky.

State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Schalk, 2016-Ohio-732
Criminal Appeal From: Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: February 26, 2016

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