Clemmer v. Hartford Insurance Co.

22 Cal. 3d 865, 151 Cal. Rptr. 285, 587 P.2d 1098 (1978)

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Clemmer v. Hartford Insurance Co.

California Supreme Court
22 Cal. 3d 865, 151 Cal. Rptr. 285, 587 P.2d 1098 (1978)

Facts

Clemmer, (plaintiff), the widow of a murder victim, sued Hartford Insurance Company (Hartford) (defendant), the slayer’s insurer, based on an indemnity policy after Clemmer was awarded a judgment in a wrongful-death action against the insured slayer. Hartford alleged that it was not liable because the loss resulted from a willful act, which was excluded under the policy. The jury returned a verdict for Clemmer after finding that the slayer lacked the mental capacity to govern his conduct, so the death was not caused by the willful act of the insured. Judgment was entered for Clemmer, and Hartford moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and in the alternative for new trial, asserting that there was insufficient evidence to support the verdict. The trial court denied the JNOV but granted the motion for new trial on the sole issue of whether the death was caused by a willful act. The trial court explained its decision in a five-page memorandum raising substantial questions regarding Clemmer’s expert’s exonerating testimony that opined that the slayer had the mental capacity to know what he was doing and to know the nature of his acts, but he suffered an acute paranoid episode when the slayer shot the victim after the victim tried to fire him. The trial court found the logical inconsistencies in that expert testimony absurd and rejected it. Because there was no additional evidence to support Clemmer’s case, the trial court concluded that Clemmer’s evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to meet Clemmer’s burden of production and support a jury verdict. Clemmer appealed the order granting the limited new trial, and Hartford appealed the order denying its JNOV.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Manuel, J.)

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