Justia Insurance Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
Murphy-Sims v. Owners Insurance Company
Plaintiff-Appellant Luzetta Murphy-Sims appealed after a jury ruled in favor of Defendant-Appellee Owners Insurance Company (Owners) on her complaint against Owners' insured stemming from a car accident. The insured was at fault; Murphy-Sims maintained that she suffered extensive injuries, and consequently incurred significant medical costs, as a result of the accident. In February 2014, she sent Owners a letter demanding settlement claiming $41,000 in medical expenses. Owners timely replied with a request for more information. When Murphy-Sims failed to reply, Owners sent two additional follow-up requests. Finally, in June 2014, Murphy-Sims provided Owners with some of the requested information. It did not offer a settlement payment in response. In July 2014, Murphy-Sims sued the insured. The parties agreed roughly three weeks later to enter into a Nunn agreement, which bound the matter over to binding arbitration. The arbitrator awarded Murphy-Sims approximately $1.3 million and judgment was entered against the insured. Pursuant to the agreement, Murphy-Sims did not execute on the judgment. In March 2016, Murphy-Sims, standing in the insured's shoes as permitted under the Nunn agreement, filed the underlying lawsuit against Owners in state district court, claiming Owners breached its contract with Switzer and had done so in bad faith. Owners removed the suit to federal court and the case proceeded to trial. The jury ultimately found that Owners did not breach its contract with the insured, thereby declining to award $1.3 million in damages to Murphy-Sims. The jury did not reach the bad faith claim having been instructed that it need not be reached in the absence of a breach of contract. After review of Murphy-Sims arguments on appeal, the Tenth Circuit determined the district curt committed no reversible error, and affirmed its judgment. View "Murphy-Sims v. Owners Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Owners Ins. v. Dakota Station II Condo. Ass’n
A condominium association, Dakota Station II Condominium, filed two claims with its insurer, Owners Insurance Company, for weather damage. The parties couldn’t agree on the money owed, so Dakota invoked the appraisal provision of its insurance policy. The parties each selected an appraiser, putting the rest of the provision’s terms into motion. Ultimately, the appraisers submitted conflicting value estimates to an umpire, and the umpire issued a final award, accepting some estimates from each appraiser. Dakota’s appraiser signed onto the award, and Owners paid Dakota. Owners later moved to vacate the award, arguing that Dakota’s appraiser was not “impartial” as required by the insurance policy’s appraisal provision and that she failed to disclose material facts. The trial court disagreed and “dismissed” the motion to vacate. A division of the court of appeals affirmed. In its review, the Colorado Supreme Court interpreted the policy’s impartiality requirement and determined whether a contingent-cap fee agreement between Dakota and its appraiser rendered the appraiser partial as a matter of law. The Court concluded the plain language of the policy required appraisers to be unbiased, disinterested, and unswayed by personal interest, and the contingent-cap fee agreement didn’t render Dakota’s appraiser partial as a matter of law. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals with respect to the contingent-cap fee agreement, reversed with respect to the impartiality requirement, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Owners Ins. v. Dakota Station II Condo. Ass'n" on Justia Law
McDonnel Group, LLC v. Great Lakes Insurance SE
After insurers denied McDonnel's claim, McDonnel initiated a declaratory and breach of contract action. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action in favor of arbitration and held that the insurance policy's conformity provision did not negate the agreement to arbitrate. The court held that the state statute, La. Rev. Stat. Ann. 22:868, was preempted by the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, and thus the statute did not and could not apply to McDonnel's policy. Consequently, there was no conflict between the policy and the state statute. Therefore, the court held that the conformity provision was not triggered, and its inapplicability leads only to the conclusion that the arbitration provision survives, undiminished by state law. View "McDonnel Group, LLC v. Great Lakes Insurance SE" on Justia Law
Wilson v. Willis
This appeal arose from fourteen lawsuits brought by various plaintiffs against (1) Laura Willis, an insurance agent; (2) Jesse Dantice, the insurance broker who hired Willis and made her the agent in charge of the insurance office; (3) their insurance agency, Southern Risk Insurance Services, LLC (Southern Risk), and (4) six insurance companies for which their office sold policies (the Insurers). The plaintiffs in the lawsuits were Willis's customers (the Insureds) and other insurance agents (the Agents) in competition with Willis and Southern Risk. The Insureds filed twelve of the lawsuits, asserting claims against Willis, Dantice, and Southern Risk for, inter alia, violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA), common law unfair trade practices, fraud, and conversion. They also named the Insurers as defendants on a respondeat superior theory of liability for failing to adequately supervise or audit Willis and Southern Risk. The question before the South Carolina Supreme Court was whether arbitration should have been enforced against nonsignatories to a contract containing an arbitration clause. The circuit court denied the motion to compel arbitration. The court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding equitable estoppel was applicable to enforce arbitration against the nonsignatories. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding the circuit court properly denied the motion to compel arbitration. View "Wilson v. Willis" on Justia Law
Jackpot Harvesting, Inc. v. Applied Underwriters, Inc.
After its workers’ compensation insurance premiums rapidly increased, Jackpot believed that Applied Underwriters had mishandled its claims and had wrongfully failed to disclose how it calculated premiums. Jackpot filed suit. Applied sought to compel arbitration based on the arbitration agreement contained in a Request to Bind. Jackpot argued that the arbitration agreement was invalid. Applied contended that, under the Federal Arbitration Act, only the arbitrator could decide the threshold question of whether the arbitration agreement was enforceable. The trial court held that the arbitration agreement was invalid. The court of appeal affirmed. In light of Jackson’s specific arguments that the arbitration provision was unenforceable due to fraud, ambiguity, and unconscionability, the trial court was obligated to consider its validity. Allied violated California law in issuing the Request to Bind without first submitting it for regulatory approval. The policy does not provide for arbitration but allows for administrative review by the Insurance Commissioner for certain disputes and otherwise leaves Jackpot’s rights to judicial review intact. The Request to Bind’s arbitration agreement, which compels arbitration in Nebraska for a wide array of disputes, materially changes the policy's dispute-resolution terms and constituted “a collateral agreement that should have been filed and endorsed to the Policy” under Insurance Code section 11658. View "Jackpot Harvesting, Inc. v. Applied Underwriters, Inc." on Justia Law
Great American Insurance Co. v. Russell
Defendant appealed the district court's vacatur of the arbitration award plaintiff received against his insurer, Great American, for wrongfully denying his claim for damage to his corn crop. The court vacated and remanded for further proceedings, holding that vacatur of the arbitration award was improper because the arbitrators rendered a sufficiently mutual, final, and definite award. The court held that the arbitration panel's failure to break down the award by county did not mean that it was so imperfectly executed such that it rendered no mutual, final, and definite award. The court also found that the panel's written explanation for the award amount was adequate. View "Great American Insurance Co. v. Russell" on Justia Law
Luxor Cabs, Inc. v. Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assurance Co.
The employer, Luxor Cabs, obtained workers' compensation insurance through AUCRA under an EquityComp program. The EquityComp workers’ compensation insurance program has garnered nationwide attention from administrative agencies and judicial tribunals. In 2016, the California Insurance Commissioner issued an administrative decision concluding that the EquityComp program violated state insurance laws and that the reinsurance participation agreement (RPA) between AUCRA and the insured employer, in that case, was void as a matter of law. In 2018, the Fourth Appellate District came to a similar decision in a case essentially identical to this one involving arbitrability under an RPA. Luxor, unhappy with AUCRA's handling of claims, filed suit. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of AUCRA’s motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the terms of an RPA between an employer, Luxor Cabs, and AUCRA. The trial court properly rejected an argument that the validity of the arbitration clause should, itself, have been referred to arbitration in accordance with the RPA’s “delegation clause.” Both the delegation clause and the arbitration provision in the RPA were void and unenforceable because they each separately constituted an “endorsement” to the Policy which was not properly vetted and approved as required by Insurance Code section 11658. View "Luxor Cabs, Inc. v. Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assurance Co." on Justia Law
Jody James Farms, JV v. Altman Group, Inc.
The lower courts in this case erred by requiring a signatory to arbitrate its non-contractual claims against non-signatories.Jody James Farms, JV purchased a crop revenue coverage insurance policy from Rain & Hail, LLC through the Altman Group. The insurance policy contained an arbitration clause. Neither the Altman Group nor any of its employees signed the agreement. After Rain & Hail denied coverage for a grain sorghum crop loss suffered by Jody James and the parties arbitrated the dispute, Jody James sued the Altman Group and its agent (collectively, the Agency) for breach of fiduciary duty and deceptive trade practices. The Agency successfully moved to compel arbitration under the insurance policy. At arbitration, Jody James asserted that it had a right to proceed in court against the Agency because the Agency was a non-signatory to the arbitration agreement. The arbitrator resolved that issue and the merits of the dispute in the Agency’s favor. The trial court confirmed the award. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed because (1) Jody James and the Agency did not agree to arbitrate any matter; and (2) Jody James may not be compelled to arbitrate under agency, third-party-beneficiary, or estoppel theories. View "Jody James Farms, JV v. Altman Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Nielsen Contracting, Inc. v. Applied Underwriters, Inc.
Nielsen Contracting, Inc. and T&M Framing, Inc. (collectively Nielsen) sued several entities (defendants) alleging these entities fraudulently provided workers' compensation policies to Nielsen that were illegal and contained unconscionable terms. Defendants moved to compel arbitration and stay the litigation under an arbitration provision in one defendant's contract, titled Reinsurance Participation Agreement (RPA). Nielsen opposed the motion, asserting the arbitration provision and the provision's delegation clause were unlawful and void. After briefing and a hearing, the trial court agreed and denied defendants' motion. Defendants appealed, arguing: (1) the arbitrator, and not the court, should decide the validity of the RPA's arbitration agreement under the agreement's delegation clause; and (2) if the court properly determined it was the appropriate entity to decide the validity of the delegation and arbitration provisions, the court erred in concluding these provisions are not enforceable. The Court of Appeal rejected these contentions and affirmed. View "Nielsen Contracting, Inc. v. Applied Underwriters, Inc." on Justia Law
Citizens of Humanity v. Applied Underwriters
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order denying defendants' petition to compel arbitration of a dispute with plaintiffs. The court held that the threshold issue of whether the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 1-16, applies or is preempted by the McCarran-Ferguson Act, 15 U.S.C. 1001-1015, and section 25- 2602.01(f) of the Nebraska Uniform Arbitration Act (NUAA) was for the court, and not the arbitrator, to decide; the trial court did not err by concluding that section 25-2602.01(f) of the NUAA is a statute that regulates the business of insurance within the meaning of the McCarran-Ferguson Act; application of the FAA would operate to invalidate or impair section 25-2602.01(f) of the NUAA; the trial court did not err by concluding that the McCarran-Ferguson Act applies and reverse preempts the FAA; section 25-2602.01(f) of the NUAA applies to the Reinsurance Participation Agreement (RPA) and renders the arbitration provision contained in the RPA unenforceable; and thus the trial court did not err by denying the petition to compel arbitration. View "Citizens of Humanity v. Applied Underwriters" on Justia Law