Justia Insurance Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
Certain Underwriters at Lloyds, London, et al. v. Chemtura Cororporation
At the heart of this appeal was a coverage dispute between a chemical company and a group of insurers over whether the insurers had to compensate the company for expenses and fines associated with environmental claims against the company in Ohio and Arkansas. The policies in question were part of a comprehensive insurance program that covered the chemical company‘s operations around the world. The chemical company and the insurers disputed what law applied to their contract law dispute regarding the application of the insurance policy. The Superior Court held that the insurance policy was not, in fact, to be interpreted by a consistent law, but instead that the underlying contract law of the states where the environmental claims arose would govern on a claim-by-claim basis. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the insurer that the Superior Court erred in its application of the relevant choice-of-law principles, and, instead, applied a consistent choice of law principle. New York was the principal place of business for the chemical company‘s predecessors at the beginning of the coverage, and there were a number of contacts with New York over time after the beginning of the coverage, the most significant relationship among the parties for these contracts was New York. Thus, New York law should have been applied to resolve this contract dispute. The Superior Court was therefore reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Certain Underwriters at Lloyds, London, et al. v. Chemtura Cororporation" on Justia Law
City of Wilmington v. Nationwide Insurance Co.
This dispute centered on subrogation claims Victoria Insurance Company and Nationwide Insurance Company asserted against the City of Wilmington. This appeal presented a question of first impression before the Supreme Court: whether, under Delaware's motor vehicle insurance statute governing subrogation disputes among insurers and self-insurers, the losing party may appeal de novo to the Superior Court from an adverse arbitration award. In considering consolidated motions to dismiss two such appeals filed by the City against the insurers, the Superior Court determined that 21 Del. C. 2118(g)(3), which mandated arbitration for subrogation disputes arising between insurers and self-insurers, did not provide a right to appeal. Because the statute unambiguously provided for appeals from mandatory arbitration of subrogation disputes between insurers and self-insurers, the Supreme Court reversed. View "City of Wilmington v. Nationwide Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Roos Foods v. Guardado
Magdalena Guardado, an undocumented worker, was employed as a machine manager for Roos Foods when she was involved in a work-related accident. She injured her left wrist and thereafter received total disability benefits. The employer petitioned the Industrial Accident Board (“the Board”) to terminate those benefits on the ground that the worker was no longer disabled and could return to work. The Board found: (1) the employer met its initial burden of showing that the worker was no longer totally disabled; (2) that the worker was a prima facie displaced worker based solely on her status as an undocumented worker; and (3) the employer had failed to meet its burden of showing regular employment opportunities within the worker’s capabilities. Accordingly, it denied the employer’s petition. The questions this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether an injured worker’s immigration status alone rendered her a prima facie displaced worker; and (2) whether the Board properly found that the employer failed to meet its burden of showing regular employment opportunities within the worker’s capabilities because its evidence failed to take into account the worker’s undocumented status. The Court concluded that an undocumented worker’s immigration status was not relevant to determining whether she was a prima facie displaced worker, but it was a relevant factor to be considered in determining whether she is an actually displaced worker. The Court also concluded that the Board correctly rejected the employer’s evidence of regular employment opportunities for the worker because that evidence failed to consider her undocumented status. View "Roos Foods v. Guardado" on Justia Law
Greenville Country Club (Guard Insurance) v. Greenville Country Club (Technology Insurance)
Appellant Greenville Country Club, through its workers’ compensation carrier, Guard Insurance (“Guard”), appealed a Superior Court Order affirming a decision of the Industrial Accident Board (the “Board”). While working for Greenville Country Club, Jordan Rash suffered injuries to his lumbar spine in two separately compensable work accidents. The first accident occurred in 2009 while the country club was insured by Guard Insurance Group. The second accident occurred in 2012 while the country club was insured by Technology Insurance (“Technology”). In 2014, Rash filed two Petitions to Determine Additional Compensation, one against Guard and one against Technology. After a hearing, the Board determined that the condition at issue was a recurrence of the 2009 work injury and not an aggravation of the 2012 work injury, and concluded that Guard was therefore wholly liable for the additional compensation to Rash. Guard appealed, arguing: (1) the Board failed to properly apply the rule for determining successive carrier liability; and (2) there was no substantial evidence to support the Board’s finding that Rash fully recovered from the 2012 accident or that his ongoing condition was solely caused by the 2009 work accident. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court found no error in the Board’s decision, and that the decision was supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Board's decision. View "Greenville Country Club (Guard Insurance) v. Greenville Country Club (Technology Insurance)" on Justia Law
In Re Viking Pump, Inc. and Warren Pumps, LLC Insurance Appeals
Viking Pump, Inc. and Warren Pumps, LLC sought to recover under insurance policies issued to a third company, Houdaille Industries, Inc. In the 1980's, Viking and Warren acquired pump manufacturing businesses from Houdaille. As a result, Viking and Warren were confronted with potential liability flowing from personal injury claims made by plaintiffs alleging damages in connection with asbestos exposure claims dating back to when the pump manufacturing businesses were owned by Houdaille. Houdaille had purchased occurrence-based primary and umbrella insurance from Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. Above the Liberty umbrella layer, Houdaille purchased layers of excess insurance. In total, Houdaille purchased 35 excess policies through 20 different carriers (the "Excess Policies"). Viking and Warren sought to fund the liabilities arising from the Houdaille-Era Claims using the comprehensive insurance program originally purchased by Houdaille. The insurance companies that issued the Excess Policies (the "Excess Insurers") contended that Viking and Warren were not entitled to use the Excess Policies to respond to the claims. The Excess Insurers also disputed the extent of any coverage available, particularly with respect to defense costs. The Supreme Court held, after careful consideration of the policies at issue: (1) the Superior Court correctly held that the 1980-1985 Liberty Primary Policies were exhausted; (2) the Superior Court held that 33 of the Excess Policies at issue in this appeal provided coverage to Viking and Warren for their defense costs, with many payments contingent on insurer consent; (3) the Court of Chancery correctly held that there were valid assignments of insurance rights to Warren and Viking under the Excess Policies; (4) the Superior Court was affirmed in part and reversed in part with respect to its determination of the Excess Policies' coverage for defense costs; and (5) the Superior Court erred with respect to the trigger of coverage under the Excess Policies. View "In Re Viking Pump, Inc. and Warren Pumps, LLC Insurance Appeals" on Justia Law
Enrique v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
Joann Enrique appealed the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company in an action she brought for bad faith denial of uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage stemming from a 2005 car accident. In 2005, an uninsured driver crashed into Enrique’s car by improperly turning into her lane. Enrique suffered a fractured rib, trauma to the right knee requiring arthroscopic surgery, trauma to the left knee for which she was a candidate for arthroscopic surgery, abrasions, and soft tissue injuries. Throughout the settlement negotiations and the processing of Enrique’s claim, State Farm personnel expressed concerns about whether Enrique’s knee injuries were caused by pre-existing conditions. The record was unclear as to why there were large lapses in time during the settlement negotiations. While the parties were waiting for the Independent Medical Examiner report, in July 2008, Enrique filed suit against State Farm, seeking benefits up to the $100,000 policy limits, as well as punitive damages against State Farm for bad faith by refusing to pay up to those limits. In support of the bad faith claim, Enrique alleged that State Farm refused to compensate her up to the UM policy limits without any reasonable justification. In October 2008, the Superior Court severed and stayed the bad faith claim pending resolution of the UM damages claim. The parties then stipulated to a partial dismissal of the bad faith claim without prejudice. Due to the continuing impasse, in September 2008 State Farm decided to advance Enrique $25,000, as the parties both agreed the claim was worth at least that much. As trial approached, State Farm offered Enrique another $20,000 to settle the case, for a total of $45,000. Enrique also revised her demand, and as of January 2010, was willing to settle for an additional $65,000, representing a $90,000 demand. The parties could not bridge the gap, and the damages case went to trial in February 2010. The jury returned a $260,000 verdict. State Farm did not seek remittitur, but did appeal on an evidentiary issue. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed, and State Farm paid the remaining $75,000 of their policy limits, costs and interests. Enrique then pursued her bad faith claim against State Farm, claiming as damages the unpaid $160,000 portion of the jury verdict, prejudgment interest, and punitive damages. The Superior Court granted State Farm summary judgment because Enrique failed to make a prima facie showing of bad faith. The court based its decision on causation issues arising from Enrique’s pre-existing knee problems (which gave State Farm a reasonable basis for its actions), State Farm’s multiple valuations of Enrique’s claim that put it below policy limits, and her failure to offer facts showing State Farm exhibited reckless indifference in handling her claim. Finding no reversible error as to the Superior Court's grant of summary judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Enrique v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Buckley
Plaintiff Stephanie Buckley sought PIP benefits following an accident involving a school bus. Defendant State Farm insured the school bus that Buckley intended to take to school on March 27, 2012. Buckley was hit by another vehicle when, after receiving the signal from the bus driver, she crossed the street to board the bus. In a detailed opinion, the Superior Court explained why Buckley was entitled to PIP coverage from State Farm. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the Superior Court had no difficulty finding that the school bus was involved in the accident for purposes of 21 Del. C. 2118, "because the bus driver, by law, controlled the process by which Buckley entered and exited the bus, and the accident occurred after the bus driver signaled her to proceed and she followed that instruction." View "State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Buckley" on Justia Law
Teamsters Local 237 Welfare Fund, et al. v. AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP
A group of New York-based third party payor health insurers (“TPPs”) that provided prescription drug benefits to union members appealed a Superior Court judgment dismissing with prejudice their second amended complaint. At issue were claims brought by the TPPs under various state consumer fraud laws against AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, and Zeneca Inc. (collectively “AstraZeneca”). The TPPs alleged that AstraZeneca falsely advertised its more expensive patented prescription drug "Nexium" as superior to the less expensive generic drug "Prilosec," causing the TPPs to overpay for Nexium when generic Prilosec would have sufficed. After conducting an extensive choice of law analysis, the Superior Court determined that New York law controlled the TPPs’ claims. The court then held that the TPPs failed to state a claim under New York’s consumer fraud statute for failure to allege legally sufficient causation. The TPPs appealed, arguing the Superior Court's choice of law analysis was flawed, and that the Superior Court's causation analysis was equally flawed. After a careful review of the record on appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the ultimate judgment of the Superior Court, finding it not necessary to discuss whether the Superior Court correctly analyzed the choice of law issue, because under either state consumer fraud statute the TPPs could not recover damages as a matter of law. View "Teamsters Local 237 Welfare Fund, et al. v. AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP" on Justia Law
Connelly v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
Christina Connelly appealed the dismissal of her claim against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. She contended that a claim accrued only when the insured suffers a judgment in excess of policy limits, and that judgment becomes final and non-appealable. Connelly's appeal raised this question as it pertained to the applicable statute of limitations on Connelly's insurance claim. State Farm contended that the claim accrued when the insurer allegedly acts in bad faith and breaches its duty to the insured. Although the Delaware Supreme Court had never addressed that precise issue, courts in other states that have considered it, and the weight of expert authority on insurance law, were in accord that a bad-faith failure-to-settle claim accrued when an excess judgment became final and non-appealable. "That approach conserves litigant and judicial resources. It also properly aligns the incentives of the insurer and its insured by allowing them to join efforts in defending the underlying third-party insurance claim without a stayed breach-of-contract claim causing a conflict of interest between them. Further, to state a claim that the insurer breached its implied duty to act in good faith, the insured must plead damages, which she cannot do before there is a final excess judgment against her." In view of these considerations, the Delaware Court found that a claim against an insurer for acting in bad faith by failing to settle a third-party insurance claim accrued when an excess judgment against an insured becomes final and non-appealable. Accordingly, it reversed the Superior Court's decision. View "Connelly v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Clark v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
The plaintiffs both have policies with State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and both submitted claims that State Farm failed to pay within the statutory thirty-day period. The plaintiffs earlier alleged that State Farm had failed to make the required statutory interest payments to them and other claimants whose PIP claims had not been processed within thirty days. When that theory did not pan out and they faced summary judgment, the plaintiffs reformulated their pursuit of class-wide relief by proposing to file an amended complaint seeking a declaratory judgment from the Superior Court that State Farm must process all PIP claims within thirty days. The Superior Court denied the motion for leave to amend, reasoning that amending the complaint would be futile because no case or controversy existed because the plaintiffs had been paid the required statutory interest. The court then granted summary judgment to State Farm. In this appeal, the plaintiffs alleged that the Superior Court was wrong to dismiss their claim, arguing that they have a ripe disagreement with State Farm over its failure to comply invariably with the thirty-day deadline set forth in 21 Del. C. 2118B(c). After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court, but on a somewhat different ground. The plaintiffs were correct that absent declaratory (or injunctive) relief, it may be that they and other class members will have a claim in the future processed by State Farm in more than thirty days. But, the Court agreed with the Superior Court that the amended complaint is futile because as plainly written, section 2118B(c) did not impose an invariable standard that every PIP claim must be processed within thirty days and, in fact, contemplated that will not be the case by establishing a statutory consequence for the failure to do so. View "Clark v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law