Law Life: State Farm sidesteps 'groin shot'

By Pat Murphy

The Daily Record Newswire

When a couple of guys take a punch in the groin as a sign of affection, you just know things are not going to end well.

John King and Patrick Frake were high school friends. In September 2006, King invited Frake to come to Chicago to take in a game at Wrigley Field.

Seems harmless enough.

Unfortunately, the young men had strange ways of kidding around. Since childhood, King, Frake and their buddies had been engaging in a form of horseplay that involved surprising each other with shots to the groin.

Now, guys revel in doing stupid things. That's part of our charm. But most guys tend to draw the line when it comes to protecting the family jewels.

Not so John King and Patrick Frake.

After seeing the Cubs game, the two friends and a couple of other buddies were walking home along East Chicago Avenue, goofing around as young men do. Of course, the pals had been drinking.

As alleged in a later lawsuit, Frake suddenly struck King in the groin with his closed fist. Frake had delivered a bull's-eye. As King doubled over in pain, Frake laughed in triumph.

When they were growing up, their mothers had always warned them that somebody was going to get hurt. Of course, their mothers were right.

King had sustained numerous injuries including "hematocele on the right scrotum ... epididymal head cyst ... chronic regional pain syndrome/reflex sympathetic dystrophe [and] nerve injury."

I squirm in my chair just writing these words.

Of course, someone had to pay for King's injuries and that someone was supposed to be State Farm.

The insurance company had issued a renters policy to Frake that provided coverage for damages because of bodily injury caused by an occurrence. The policy defined "occurrence" as an "accident ... which results in bodily injury ... during the policy period."

When King sued Frake, State Farm defended under a reservation of rights. King won his negligence suit and a jury awarded him $450,000.

Surprisingly, a California judge determined that the claim was covered under the renters policy, rejecting State Farm's argument that there was no coverage because Frake had intentionally struck King.

The California Court of Appeal righted that wrong in a decision released for publication last month that handed State Farm a victory in its action to declare that King's claim was not covered.

"Frake admits that he intended to strike King in the groin area and there is no dispute that King suffered injuries as a direct result of the strike. Therefore this is not a case where some 'unexpected, independent, and unforeseen happening' in the causal chain produced the resulting harm. ...

"Rather, King's injuries were 'the direct and immediate result of an intended ... event.' The mere fact that Frake did not intend to injure King does not transform his intentional conduct into an accident," the court said. (State Farm v. Frake)

Published: Mon, Aug 22, 2011