Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries
Maryland Casualty Co. v. Asbestos Claims Court
The Supreme Court allowed hundreds of former employees of W.R. Grace & Company's Zonolite Division in Libby (Grace) to continue their asbestos-related personal injury claims against Maryland Casualty Company (MCC), Grace's former workers' compensation insurance provider, holding that MCC owed Grace workers a direct common law duty under Restatement (Second) of Torts 324A(b)-(c) to use reasonable care under the circumstances to warn them of the known risk of exposure to airborne asbestos in certain Grace workplaces. The Supreme Court assumed supervisory control over proceedings pending before the Montana Asbestos Claims Court. Here the Court addressed on extraordinary review MCC's assertion that the district court erred in concluding that MCC owed a duty of care to warn third-party employees of Grace of a known risk of airborne asbestos exposure in or about Grace facilities in and about Libby, Montana between 1963 and 1970. The Supreme Court held that, based on MCC's affirmative assumption of employee-specific medical monitoring and Grace's reliance on MCC to perform that function, MCC owed Grace workers a legal duty to use reasonable care to warn them of the risk of airborne asbestos. View "Maryland Casualty Co. v. Asbestos Claims Court" on Justia Law
North Star Mutual Insurance v. Ackerman, et al.
North Star Mutual Insurance appealed a declaratory judgment holding that a commercial general liability policy it issued to Jayme Ackerman, doing business as Ackerman Homes, provided coverage for Ackerman’s potential liability arising from an accident involving Kyle Lantz, and that North Star has a duty to defend Ackerman. North Star argued the district court erred in finding coverage because the policy excluded accidents arising out of the use of an automobile. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "North Star Mutual Insurance v. Ackerman, et al." on Justia Law
Cruson v. Jackson National Life Insurance, Co.
Plaintiff and other Texas residents filed a putative class action against a life insurance company that sells annuities, alleging that the company overcharged them by miscalculating early-withdrawal fees in breach of the annuities contracts. The Fifth Circuit vacated the class certification order and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the company did not waive its personal jurisdiction as to any non-Texas class members. The court also held that the district court erred in its predominance analysis by failing to assess how state-law variations may impact adjudication of the breach question and also by failing to consider the individualized evidence relevant to the company's affirmative defenses of waiver and ratification. Finally, the court held that plaintiffs failed to offer a damages model adequate to support class treatment, an issue they virtually conceded at oral argument. View "Cruson v. Jackson National Life Insurance, Co." on Justia Law
Chartis Property Casualty Co. v. Inganamort
The Inganamorts docked their 65-foot fishing vessel behind their part-time Boca Raton, Florida residence. In 2011, while they were at their New Jersey home, the ship sank enough to sustain serious damage. They reported the loss to their insurer, Chartis, with whom they had an all-risk policy. Chartis sent a claims specialist, who reported three inches of standing water in the starboard forward cabin bilge and multiple potential sources of water ingress, including a hole in the hull the size of a screw. He found that the electrical breakers were severely rust-stained and blackened from an electrical failure; subsequent testing revealed obvious water intrusion. The final review confirmed the initial findings and identified that the battery charger was not working; without a source of power, the ship’s bilge pumps had ceased functioning. Chartis sought a declaratory judgment that it was not liable for the damage and claimed that the Inganamorts were liable for misrepresentation. The Inganmorts neither filed a statement of facts nor opposed Chartis’s statement of undisputed facts. The district court treated Chartis’s statement of facts as undisputed and granted Chartic summary judgment, finding that the Inganamorts “ha[d] no evidence to demonstrate a fortuitous loss[.]” The Third Circuit affirmed. An insured bears the burden of proving fortuity; the Inganamorts did not meet that burden. View "Chartis Property Casualty Co. v. Inganamort" on Justia Law
Plavin v. Group Health Inc.
The Court of Appeals accepted questions certified to it by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and answered that, in this case, Plaintiff sufficiently alleged consumer-oriented conduct to assert claims under N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law 349 and 350 for damages incurred due to an insurance company's alleged materially misleading representations. Plaintiff brought this action based on Defendant-insurance company's allegedly misleading representations made directly to the City of New York's employees and retirees about the terms of its insurance plan to induce them to select its plan from among the eleven health insurance plans made available to over 600,000 current and former City employees. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, concluding that the claims failed to plead consumer-oriented conduct. On appeal, the federal court of appeals certified questions to the Court of Appeals regarding whether Defendant had engaged in consumer-oriented conduct. The Court of Appeals answered the questions in the affirmative, holding that, under the circumstances, the complaint adequately alleged consumer-oriented conduct. View "Plavin v. Group Health Inc." on Justia Law
Jalbert v. Zurich Services Corp.
In this insurance dispute, the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissing Plaintiff's suit to recover unreimbursed defense costs that a former investment advisory firm (Firm) incurred in connection with a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation of the Firm, holding that the Firm was not entitled to coverage. Plaintiff, in his capacity as trustee of a trust established during the bankruptcy proceedings of the Firm, filed this suit against Defendants, two of the Firm's excess insurers, seeking to recover defense costs that the Firm incurred in connection with the SEC investigation. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants, concluding that an SEC order issued before the start of Defendants' coverage period initiated the investigation of the Firm, and this order triggered the policy's "deemed-made" clause, meaning that the claim was deemed first made prior to Defendants' policy taking effect. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the SEC investigation was a claim that was deemed to have been made when the SEC order issued prior to the inception of Defendants' policies; and (2) accordingly and the claim was outside of the policies' coverage period, and Defendants were not obligated to reimburse the Firm for its defense costs. View "Jalbert v. Zurich Services Corp." on Justia Law
Lovely, et al. v Baker Hughes, Inc., et al.
A construction contractor’s employees were injured on the job and received workers’ compensation benefits from their employer. The workers later brought a negligence suit against three other corporations: the one that had entered into the construction contract with their employer, that corporation’s parent corporation, and an affiliated corporation that operated the facility under construction. The three corporations moved for summary judgment, arguing that all three were “project owners” potentially liable for the payment of workers’ compensation benefits and therefore were protected from liability under the exclusive liability provision of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act. The superior court granted the motion, rejecting the workers’ argument that status as a “project owner” was limited to a corporation that had a contractual relationship with their employer. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded a project owner, for purposes of the Act, "must be someone who actually contracts with a person to perform specific work and enjoys the beneficial use of that work." Furthermore, the Court found the workers raised issues of material fact about which of the three corporate defendants satisfied this definition. Judgment was therefore reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Lovely, et al. v Baker Hughes, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
McCormick v. Chippewa, Inc.
In August 2007 Brent McCormick was injured while working aboard FV CHIPPEWA, owned by Chippewa,Inc. McCormick filed a lawsuit against Chippewa and Louis Olsen, the vessel's captain in August 2010. McCormick initiated settlement negotiations with the employer's insurance company for "policy limits." Under the insurance policy there was a per-occurrence coverage limit. During negotiations, counsel for McCormick and the insurance company discussed the terms of the settlement over a phone call; the parties provided inconsistent accounts of which issues were addressed on the call. McCormick's counsel’s affidavit asserted he raised the issue of the number of occurrences and the parties agreed to leave it unresolved. Shortly after this phone call, the parties reached a purported settlement agreement. McCormick filed suit to enforce the purported settlement agreement for policy limits based on three occurrences. The insurance company filed for summary judgment, asserting that the agreement was for policy limits of a single occurrence. The superior court granted summary judgment for the insurance company, concluding that its interpretation of the purported settlement agreement was correct. On appeal, McCormick argued the superior court abused its discretion on evidentiary and discovery issues and erred by granting the insurer’s motion for summary judgment. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion. But the Court did find an issue of fact barring summary judgment due to the contradictory accounts of the phone call. A reasonable person could have discerned a genuine factual dispute on a material issue because this phone call could have either: (1) provided extrinsic evidence of the meaning of the settlement agreement, or (2) indicated there was no meeting of the minds on an essential term, and thus no enforceable agreement was formed. Therefore, summary judgment was inappropriate and the matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "McCormick v. Chippewa, Inc." on Justia Law
Richards v. State
In this insurance dispute, the Supreme Court answered a question of Texas law in a case certified from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by stating that a "policy-language exception" to the "eight-corners rule" is not a permissible exception under Texas law. The certified question asked about the "eight-corners rule," which is given its name by the "four corners" of the petition and the "four corners" of the policy. Under the eight-corners rule an insurer's "duty to defend is determined by the claims alleged in the petition and the coverage provided in the policy. The instant case concerned a dispute as to whether State Farm must defend its insureds against personal injury claims. According to one federal district court applying Texas law, the eight-corners rule does not apply unless the policy includes language requiring the insurer to defend all actions against its insured, even if the allegations are groundless, fraudulent, or false. The case made its way to the federal district court, which asked whether the "policy-language exception" to the eight-corners rule was a permissible exception under Texas law. The Supreme Court answered that it was not. View "Richards v. State" on Justia Law
North Cypress Medical Center Operating Co. v. Cigna Healthcare
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's adverse judgment against plaintiffs on Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) claims assigned by Cigna-insured patients. The court held that the law of the case did not require the district court on remand to determine the legal correctness of Cigna's policy interpretation, and under Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. v. Humble Surgical Hospital, L.L.C., 878 F.3d 478, 485 (5th Cir. 2017), a court need not reach legal correctness if the insurer's determination was not an abuse of discretion. Furthermore, Humble moots consideration of the conflicts and inferences of bad faith that plaintiffs assert against Cigna. In this case, the district court correctly applied this court's previous decision in the instant controversy as well as Humble, and thus plaintiffs' exhaustion argument was moot. Plaintiffs' procedural challenge to Cigna's review failed for lack of substantiating evidence, which left the damages issue moot. Finally, plaintiffs failed to establish any right to attorney's fees. View "North Cypress Medical Center Operating Co. v. Cigna Healthcare" on Justia Law