• Homeowners insurance policies may not protect if sued for self-defense

    By: Liz Foster

    Updated:

    GASTON COUNTY, N.C. - It's terrifying to even think about someone putting you and your family's safety in jeopardy by breaking into your home.

    Most people would not hesitate to do whatever it takes to protect their family.

    That is what Sabrina Flowe did when someone attempted to break into her Gaston County home in September.

    "There was one person actually in my laundry room and there was somebody else at the bottom of the stairs," Flowe said.

    Flowe didn't hesitate to grab the gun her husband had gotten her.

    She said she showed the two suspects the gun and told them get out, and they did, without having to fire the gun.

    Eyewitness News anchor Liz Foster asked Flowe if she was prepared to fire the weapon if she felt threatened enough.

    “If they made it into my house, absolutely,” Flowe said.

    Flowe said the reason she wouldn’t have hesitated to shoot was for her two young children.

    "I am the one that protects them. I'm not willing to sacrifice that for anything," Flowe said.

    Channel 9 has covered several incidents over the past few months when residents shot at people trying to break into their homes.

    In May, a northwest Charlotte man fired 14 rounds at people who had broken into his home.

    What some people do not realize is many standard home and auto policies include a liability clause that specifically excludes coverage for injuries or damage caused by an intentional act, like firing a gun, even in self-defense.

    "If I protect my house and I get sued for wrongful death, there is no punitive damages under any homeowner policy in North Carolina,” insurance agent Mark McDuffie said. “They're not going to pay the punitive damages, which could be the biggest amount of damages.”

    McDuffie said policies differ and all claims are looked at on a case-by-case basis.

    "What's intentional, not intentional ... it's really a tough legal definition that the insurance industry is going to struggle with," McDuffie said.

    Foster checked her own home insurance policy, and it does not cover "expected or intended injury," but there is an exception that reads, "This exclusion does not apply to 'bodily injury' or 'property damage' resulting from the use of reasonable force by an 'insured' to protect persons or property."

    But in many policies, reasonable force doesn't matter.

    "That's a big problem," Flowe said.

    Flowe said she worries people may hesitate to protect themselves knowing their insurance may be worthless in a resulting lawsuit.

    "I think [self-defense] should be covered,” Flowe said. “I think you should feel safe in your home in knowing that insurance companies would help you."

    Police have not arrested the two individuals who attempted to break into Flowe's home.

    Flowe said she will never hesitate to use her gun if she comes face-to-face with a burglar again.

    "I can't take the risk of not being here when my kids come home," Flowe said.

    There are special insurance policies specifically designed to protect gun owners in a self-defense situation.

    The National Rifle Association's Carry Guard insurance claims to "help mitigate potentially costly financial and legal consequences from an armed encounter."

    McDuffie said he recommends it for all gun owners, especially those with concealed carry permits.

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