Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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Allied World Specialty Insurance Company issued a WaterPlus Package Insurance Policy to the Windermere Oaks Water Supply Corporation. That policy includes coverage for Public Officials and Management Liability. But it also includes various exclusions from coverage. At issue in this appeal is the exclusion of contractual liability.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment granting summary judgment in favor of the insured. The court held that a claim for breach of fiduciary duty is not a claim for breach of contract and is, therefore, not subject to exclusion from coverage under a contractual liability exclusion. The court explained that under the Texas Prompt Payment of Claims Act, Tex. Ins. Code Section 542.060, an insurer’s breach of the duty to defend constitutes a per se violation View "Windermere Oaks v. Allied World" on Justia Law

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In this insurance coverage action, Defendant Stillwater Insurance Company (Stillwater) contends that an animal liability exclusion in the insured’s homeowner’s insurance policy (the policy) precludes any duty to defend because the third parties sued the insured for injuries they and their dogs sustained when their dogs were bitten by two pit bulls on a public street. The insurer determined that the exclusion applied because the underlying complaint alleged that the pit bulls lived at the insured’s home and, therefore, it had no obligation to indemnify an excluded claim. The insured denied any ownership or control of the pit bulls, which were owned by her boyfriend, who did not live at her home. The insurer did not conduct any further investigation. Plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Stillwater on her claims based on Stillwater’s refusal to defend Plaintiff in the third-party lawsuit.   The Second Circuit reversed. The court concluded that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Stillwater because there is evidence that Stillwater breached its duty to defend. The court also reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Stillwater on Plaintiff’s claim for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The court explained that even if the insured was correct and the pit bulls were not under her ownership, the third party still might have raised a claim potentially covered by the policy. An insurer can be excused from the duty to defend only if the third-party complaint can by no conceivable theory raise an issue within the policy’s coverage. View "Dua v. Stillwater Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court entered favor of Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company in this breach of contract action, holding that, under the circumstances, the court erred in granting Allstate's motion for summary judgment.Plaintiff made a claim for loss under its homeowners policy with Allstate after a water loss Plaintiff's property suffered. While Plaintiff sought to invoke a provision in the policy that either party could seek appraisal in the event of a dispute as to the amount of the loss Allstate refused to proceed to appraisal. Plaintiff filed suit for breach of contract in his first action. Allstate counterclaimed seeking a declaration that the parties were required to submit the matter to appraisal. The trial justice granted summary judgment for Allstate without prejudice. Thereafter, Plaintiff demanded that Allstate move forward with the appraisal process. Allstate refused, asserting that Plaintiff's demand was untimely under the policy. Plaintiff then commenced the instant action seeking relief in the form of a judgment ordering Allstate to designate an appraiser and to complete the appraisal process. Final judgment entered for Allstate. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment below, holding that Plaintiff's initial demand for appraisal was not time-barred, and therefore, the trial court erroneously granted summary judgment for Allstate. View "Romeo v. Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Thirteen’s building suffered fire damages covered by Foremost’s policy. Thirteen retained Paramount as its public adjuster and general contractor for repairs. Paramount was “to be [Thirteen’s] agent and representative to assist in the preparation, presentation, negotiation, adjustment, and settlement” of the fire loss. Thirteen also “direct[ed] any insurance companies to include Paramount … on all payments on” the fire loss claim. Paramount negotiated the fire loss. Foremost delivered settlement checks to Paramount. The checks named Thirteen, its mortgagee, and Paramount as co-payees. Paramount endorsed the names of all co-payees, cashed the checks, and kept the proceeds. Paramount performed some repair work on the building before Thirteen sought a declaratory judgment that the insurer had breached its policy by not paying the claim.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Foremost. Paramount received and cashed the checks, discharging the insurer’s performance obligation under the policy. The court rejected Thirteen’s arguments that Foremost waived payment as an affirmative defense by failing to plead it in its answer; that, under controlling Illinois law, Foremost’s policy obligation was not discharged when it delivered the checks to Paramount, which cashed the checks; and that Foremost agreed to make claim payments to Thirteen in installments after Foremost had inspected repair work performed. View "Thirteen Investment Co., Inc. v. Foremost Insurance Co. Grand Rapids Michigan" on Justia Law

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Starlight Cinemas, Inc., Akarakian Theaters, Inc. (collectively, Starlight) appealed from a judgment entered in favor of Defendant Massachusetts Bay Insurance Company (MBIC) after the trial court granted MBIC’s motion for judgment on the pleadings without leave to amend. Starlight, which owns and operates movie theaters in Southern California, sued MBIC for breach of an insurance contract and bad faith denial of coverage after MBIC denied Starlight’s claim for losses sustained when it was compelled by government orders to suspend operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Starlight contends a policy term providing coverage for lost business income due to a suspension of operations “caused by direct physical loss of or damage to property” can be reasonably construed to include loss of use of its theaters without any physical alteration to the property.   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court concluded Starlight has not alleged a covered loss because the policy language requires a physical alteration of the covered property, which was not alleged. The court explained that Starlight did not allege that the COVID-19 virus was present in its theaters or that there was any physical alteration of its property as a result of either the virus or the government orders. As discussed, most California appellate courts have held the allegation of temporary loss of use of property resulting from pandemic-related government closure orders—without any physical loss of the property—is not sufficient to support a claim against an insurer for business income coverage under a policy that requires the suspension be caused by “direct physical loss of or damage to” insured property. View "Starlight Cinemas, Inc. v. Massachusetts Bay Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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This case involves a rare procedural maneuver called snap removal. Federated Mutual Insurance Company removed an insurance dispute to federal court before Plaintiff, M & B Oil, Inc., “properly joined and served” one of the Defendants, the City of St. Louis. The question is whether this maneuver eliminates the requirement of complete diversity.   The Eighth Circuit answered no, and vacated the order denying remand and sent the case back for a second look. The court explained that from the beginning, M & B sued two Defendants: St. Louis and Federated. One of them is a fellow Missourian, so there has never been complete diversity. And without complete diversity, there is no “original jurisdiction. Further, the court wrote that snap removal cannot cure a lack of complete diversity. Moreover, the court explained that there is reason to doubt that any fraudulent-joinder argument will succeed now that M & B has amended its complaint to include an inverse condemnation claim against St. Louis. View "M & B Oil, Inc. v. Federated Mutual Insurance Co" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court that Insured was not entitled to preaward interest from Insurer on an appraisal award based on Minn. Stat. 549.09, holding that the policy language limited interest on a loss to amounts accruing after an appraisal award is issued.After a fire damaged his home, Insured disagreed with Insurer's valuation and demanded an appraisal. The claim was submitted to appraisal, but Insurer did not pay Insured any additional amounts. Insured then demanded preaward interest on the appraisal award, arguing that interest accrued from the date of written notice of his fire claim and until the appraisal award was issued. When Insurer refused to pay, Insured brought this action. The district court concluded that Insured was not entitled to preaward interest. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the policy language must "explicitly preclude" reward interest to avoid the obligation to pay preaward interest under section 549.09. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a fire insurance policy provision stating that "no interest accrues on the loss until after the loss becomes payable" precludes preaward interest under section 549.09. View "Wesser v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Moses Enterprises, LLC, sells cars. Moses had an insurance policy issued by defendant Lexington Insurance Company, with Defendant AIG Claims, Inc. serving as the claims administrator. Moses sued Lexington and AIG in federal district court. The complaint made four claims under West Virginia law, including—as relevant here—one for breach of the insurance contract and one for violating the State’s unfair trade practices statute. The district court granted partial summary judgment for Moses on the breach of contract claim but resolved only liability—not damages.   The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded. The court explained that the district court’s later grant of partial summary judgment also did not obviate the need for further work to “obtain payment of the insurance proceeds.” However, at the same time the court rejected Moses’s contention that the district court committed no legal errors in concluding Moses was entitled to “the entire amount of attorney’s fees incurred until the final resolution of the case.” Thus, the court wrote because the district court committed legal error in awarding Moses the full amount of its requested fees without determining whether any of the work was properly attributed only to the Jenkins claim, the court vacated the fee award and remand for further proceedings View "Moses Enterprises, LLC v. Lexington Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians of the Santa Ynez Reservation California (Chumash) appealed a judgment following the granting of a motion for summary judgment in favor of Lexington Insurance Company (Lexington) in Chumash’s lawsuit against Lexington for denial of insurance coverage.   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court concluded that, among other things, Chumash did not present sufficient evidence to show that the COVID-19 virus caused physical property damage to its casino and resort so as to fall within the property damage coverage provisions of the Lexington insurance policy. The court explained that had the Chumash Casino and Resort sustained property damage, it was required to specify what property was damaged and to submit a claim for the dollar amount of that loss. The absence of such information supports Lexington’s decision to deny coverage. View "Santa Ynez Band of Chumash etc. v. Lexington Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Olmsted Medical Center (“Olmsted”) provides preventive, primary, and specialty healthcare in southeastern Minnesota. Olmsted purchased a business property insurance policy from Continental Casualty Company (“Continental”) for the period from January 1, 2020, to January 1, 2021. The “Coverage” section of the policy states that it “insures against risks of direct physical loss of or damage to property and/or interests described herein at” Olmsted’s premises. Olmsted submitted a claim for losses it sustained due to the COVID-19 pandemic under the insurance policy it held with Continental. Continental denied the claim two days later. Olmsted filed suit in Minnesota state court, alleging Continental breached the insurance contract when it refused to pay the claim. Olmsted requested damages and declaratory relief. After Olmsted filed its amended complaint, Continental filed a motion to dismiss. Continental argued, among other things, that Olmsted’s allegations did not implicate a “direct physical loss of or damage to” property; therefore, its claim for coverage did not fall within the policy’s language under any of the above provisions.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that although SARS-CoV-2 may have a “physical” element, it does not have a physical effect on real or personal property. Moreover, the business-interruption provision, however, expressly limits coverage to the “length of time as would be required . . . to rebuild, repair or replace” the affected property. Due to the fact that SARS-CoV-2 does not have an effect on the underlying property, the court did not see how to square Olmsted’s broader interpretation of the provision with the express time limitation. View "Olmsted Medical Center v. Continental Casualty Company" on Justia Law