Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries
Johnson v. Protective Life Insurance Company
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a class action lawsuit that involved a life insurance policy dispute between plaintiff Worth Johnson and defendant Protective Life Insurance Company. Johnson alleged that Protective breached its contract by not reassessing and adjusting its cost of insurance (COI) rates based exclusively on expectations of future mortality experience. The district court granted Protective’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that Protective did not breach its insurance contract.On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in part, agreeing that the policy did not require Protective to reassess and redetermine its COI rates based exclusively on its expectations as to future mortality experience. However, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of Johnson's alternative claim that Protective did reassess and redetermine its COI rates, but ignored its expectations as to future mortality experience when doing so. The court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its ruling. View "Johnson v. Protective Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law
NBIS Construction & Transport Insurance Services, v. Liebherr-America, Inc.
In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit had to apply Florida tort law to a dispute concerning the collapse of a crane boom. The plaintiff, NBIS Construction & Transport Insurance Services, Inc., an insurer of the crane's owner, sued the defendants, Liebherr-America, Inc., a distributor and servicer of the type of crane in question, for over $1.7 million in damages resulting from the collapse. The defendants argued that they were shielded from liability by Florida’s economic loss rule. The magistrate judge, after a five-day bench trial, rejected this argument. The court of appeals found Florida law unclear on this issue and certified a question to the Florida Supreme Court.The facts of the case involved a crane purchased by Sims Crane & Equipment Company from a non-party broker, which was manufactured by Liebherr Werk Ehingen GMbH. Two Sims crane operators received training from a Liebherr-America employee, which involved swapping out different configurations of the crane boom. However, the training was inadequate and did not provide sufficient information about the proper placement of specific pins which, if misadjusted, could cause the crane boom to collapse. When the crane boom did collapse during a construction project, causing a fatality and damage to the crane, NBIS filed a negligence suit against Liebherr-America.The key issue in the case was whether Florida’s economic loss rule, which generally limits recovery in tort cases to situations where there is damage to other property or personal injury, and not just economic loss, applied in this case. The defendants argued that the rule should apply because the plaintiff’s negligence claims were akin to failure to warn theories found in products liability law, which fall within the scope of the rule. The plaintiff argued that the rule should not apply because this was not a product liability case asserting a product defect, but rather a case alleging negligent services provided by the defendants. Because the court found Florida law unclear on this issue, it certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court. View "NBIS Construction & Transport Insurance Services, v. Liebherr-America, Inc." on Justia Law
LEXINGTON INSURANCE COMPANY V. SMITH
In a dispute between Lexington Insurance Company ("Lexington") and the Suquamish Tribe ("Tribe"), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's summary judgment in favor of the Tribe. The dispute arose from several insurance companies and underwriters refusing to compensate the Tribe for its insurance claims for lost business and tax revenue and other expenses resulting from the suspension of business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The court held that the Suquamish Tribal Court had subject-matter jurisdiction over the Tribe’s claim against nonmember off-reservation insurance companies that participated in an insurance program tailored to and offered exclusively to tribes. The court concluded that the insurers' conduct occurred not only on the Suquamish reservation but also on tribal lands. The court further concluded that, under the Tribe’s sovereign authority over “consensual relationships,” as recognized under the first Montana exception to the general rule restricting tribes’ inherent sovereign authority over nonmembers on reservation lands, the Tribal Court had jurisdiction over the Tribe’s suit. View "LEXINGTON INSURANCE COMPANY V. SMITH" on Justia Law
TCF Enterprises, Inc. v. Rames, Inc.
The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed a lower court's decision that an insurance agency, Rames Inc., formerly known as Central Insurance Agency, had a duty to procure additional insurance coverage for a construction company, TCF Enterprises Inc., also known as Malmquist Construction. Rames was found to have breached that duty, thereby breaching the standard of care and negligently misrepresenting that it had obtained the coverage. The court also found that the policy's professional services exclusion would not have barred coverage for defense and indemnity. The dispute arose after Malmquist was sued by a developer due to a construction defect and realized it wasn't covered as an additional insured under a subcontractor's insurance policy as it had believed. Rames had been told by the subcontractor to add Malmquist as an additional insured, but it failed to do so. The jury awarded damages to Malmquist in the amount of $1,022,257.85. Rames appealed, but the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision. View "TCF Enterprises, Inc. v. Rames, Inc." on Justia Law
Johnston v. Flying S Title & Escrow, Inc.
In a dispute arising from a failed subdivision in Missoula County, Montana, a group of property purchasers, led by Gilbert and Judith Johnston, claimed that Flying S Title and Escrow, Inc., breached a purported contract to provide title insurance for the properties they bought. The properties were originally platted as lots, but the purchasers believed that they would eventually be reconfigured into larger parcels. However, the necessary infrastructure was not installed and the amended plat was never recorded, so the parcels never came into existence. The purchasers claimed that pro forma documents provided by Flying S constituted a contract to insure the parcels. The Supreme Court of Montana disagreed, ruling that the pro forma documents did not constitute a contract, but were merely an offer to issue a title insurance policy for the parcels, subject to the terms stated in the documents. The court noted that a contract for title insurance could not exist under the pro forma documents because the parcels, and the title thereto, never existed. Furthermore, the court found that Flying S had not been unjustly enriched by the purchasers' premium payments because it had provided, as agreed, title insurance for the transaction completed by the purchasers to buy the lots. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's decision in favor of Flying S Title and Escrow, Inc. View "Johnston v. Flying S Title & Escrow, Inc." on Justia Law
Parmenter v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America
In this case, the Plaintiff, Barbara M. Parmenter, had subscribed to a long-term care insurance policy offered by her employer, Tufts University, and underwritten by The Prudential Insurance Company of America. The policy was governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. After Prudential twice increased Parmenter's premium rate payments for her policy, she sued Tufts and Prudential, alleging each breached their respective fiduciary duties owed to her when Prudential increased those rates. The defendants responded with motions to dismiss for failure to state a plausible claim. The district court granted each of their motions and Parmenter appealed.The United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit found that the language in the policy stating that premium increases would be "subject to the approval of the Massachusetts Commissioner of Insurance" was ambiguous, and could not be definitively interpreted based solely on the pleadings and contract documents currently available. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's decision to dismiss the case against Prudential and remanded it for further proceedings.However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the case against Tufts, as Parmenter's allegations that Tufts failed to prevent the premium rate increases or monitor Prudential did not fall into one of the categories of co-fiduciary liability set forth in section 1105(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. View "Parmenter v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America" on Justia Law
Martins v. Vermont Mutual Insurance Company
The case involved an appellant, Jonathan Martins, who filed a lawsuit against Vermont Mutual Insurance Company. Martins' vehicle was involved in an accident with a vehicle insured by Vermont Mutual. He claimed that the insurance company failed to compensate him for the inherent diminished value (IDV) of his vehicle after the accident. The case was first heard in a district court that ruled in favor of Vermont Mutual, stating the standard Massachusetts automobile insurance policy did not provide coverage for IDV damages. Martins appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.The Court of Appeals reviewed the district court's decision and maintained that the district court correctly ruled in favor of Vermont Mutual. The court held that under Massachusetts law, a third-party claimant such as Martins could not maintain a direct cause of action against an insurer without first obtaining a final judgment against the insured party involved in the accident. The court also rejected Martins' argument that Vermont Mutual was estopped from denying liability for IDV damages because it had paid for other damages related to the accident. The court concluded that the insurer's obligation to make a reasonable settlement offer did not equate to admitting liability. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's ruling in favor of Vermont Mutual. View "Martins v. Vermont Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Berkley National Ins. Co. v. Atlantic-Newport Realty LLC
In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, an insurance company, Berkley National Insurance Company, sued two of its insureds, Granite Telecommunications, LLC and Atlantic-Newport Realty LLC, seeking restitution for both the payment it had made to settle a personal-injury lawsuit against the insureds and the costs it had incurred to defend them against that suit. The insurer, Berkley, also sought a declaratory judgement that it had no duty to defend or indemnify the insureds with respect to the personal-injury claims that they were facing. The District Court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Berkley, ordering the insureds to pay restitution for both the insurer's defense costs and its settlement payment. The insureds appealed the judgment.The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's order, concluding that the rulings conflicted with Massachusetts law governing when a liability insurer who has chosen to defend its insureds may seek reimbursement from them. The Court stated that under Massachusetts law, a liability insurer can only seek reimbursement for an amount paid to settle a lawsuit if the insured has agreed that the insurer may commit its own funds to a reasonable settlement with a right to seek reimbursement, or if the insurer secures specific authority to reach a particular settlement which the insured agrees to pay. The Court found that the insurer, Berkley, did not meet any of these conditions, and as a result, it could not seek reimbursement from the insureds. Consequently, the Court vacated the grant of summary judgment to the insurer and dismissed the remainder of the appeal as moot. View "Berkley National Ins. Co. v. Atlantic-Newport Realty LLC" on Justia Law
Molinar v. 21st Century Insurance Co.
In this case, the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One State of California decided on a matter concerning an automobile insurance policy. The plaintiffs, Silvia Escarcega and Alberto Molinar, who are the parents of Tania Molinar, filed a lawsuit against 21st Century Insurance Company (defendant) for refusal to defend or indemnify their daughter in a lawsuit brought against her following a car accident she caused. The insurer denied coverage on the grounds that the policy had been cancelled due to nonpayment of premiums prior to the accident. The plaintiffs argued that the insurer had a duty to give advance notice of cancellation not only to them as policyholders but also to their adult daughter who was named as an insured driver on their policy and whose vehicle was also insured under the policy.The court held that under Insurance Code section 662, subdivision (a), the insurer was required to give advance notice of cancellation to the adult daughter. Because the insurer did not give notice to the adult daughter, the policy was still legally in effect when she got into the accident driving her covered vehicle without knowledge of the purported cancellation. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court's summary judgment in favor of the insurer on claims arising out of its refusal to defend or indemnify the daughter. The court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Molinar v. 21st Century Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Protopapas v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Co.
In this case, a South Carolina court-appointed receiver brought an action against Travelers Casualty and Surety Company and other insurers, alleging breaches of insurance policies issued to a defunct company within a state receivership. Travelers removed the action to federal court, asserting diversity jurisdiction. However, the district court granted the receiver’s motion to remand the case back to state court. The court held that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because the case involved property of a state receivership exclusively under the jurisdiction of the state court (based on the doctrine articulated in Barton v. Barbour), and the removal lacked unanimous consent of all defendants due to a forum selection clause in some of the insurance policies issued to the defunct company.Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal, holding that the district court's conclusions in support of remand were at least colorably supported. The court found that the district court's reliance on a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and procedural defect as grounds for remand were colorably supported, and thus, not reviewable under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d). The court also concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to review the district court's remand order and dismissed the appeal. View "Protopapas v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Co." on Justia Law