Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Fox and Puchlak filed purported class actions, alleging that Michigan counties seized property to satisfy property-tax delinquencies, sold the properties, and kept the difference between the sales proceeds and the tax debts.. The suits assert that the counties committed takings without just compensation or imposed excessive fines in violation of the Michigan and federal constitutions. Genesee County’s insurance, through Safety, precludes coverage for claims “[a]rising out of . . . [t]ax collection, or the improper administration of taxes or loss that reflects any tax obligation” and claims “[a]rising out of eminent domain, condemnation, inverse condemnation, temporary or permanent taking, adverse possession, or dedication by adverse use.”Safety sought a ruling that it owed no duty to defend or to indemnify. The district court entered summary judgment, finding no Article III case or controversy between Safety and Fox and Puchlak. The court also held that Safety owes Genesee County no duty to defend. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Safety lacks standing to sue Fox and Puchlak over its duty to defend and its claim for the duty to indemnify lacks ripeness. Safety owes no duty to defend; the alleged tax-collection process directly caused the injuries underlying each of Fox’s and Puchlak’s claims. View "Safety Specialty Insurance Co. v. Genesee County Board of Commissioners" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned a particular rate known as a “base rate,” which State Compensation Insurance Fund (State Fund) used to calculate premiums for its insureds. California Insurance Code section 11664(e)(6)(A) stated: “[i]f the premium rate in the governing classification for the insured is to be increased 25 percent or greater and the insurer intends to renew the policy, the insurer shall provide a written notice of a renewal offer not less than 30 days prior to the policy renewal date.” In a matter of first impression, the Court of Appeal found State Fund was not obligated to provide notice to cross-complainant Cover Right Roofing (Cover Right) under this statute. The increase at issue was not due to any change in the premium rate of Cover Right’s governing classification. Rather, a third party changed the applicable governing classification criteria, which caused Cover Right to be assigned a new governing classification with a higher premium rate. The statute did not require notice in such circumstances. Thus, the Court found the trial court correctly granted State Fund’s motion for summary judgment and affirm the judgment. View "Cover Right Roofing, Inc. v. State Compensation Ins. Fund" on Justia Law

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Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont (Blue Cross) appealed the Green Mountain Care Board’s (GMCB) decision modifying its proposed health-insurance rates for 2022. The GMCB approved Blue Cross’s proposed rates with several exceptions, one of which was relevant here: its contribution to reserves (CTR). Blue Cross had sought a base CTR rate of 1.5%, but the GMCB ordered Blue Cross to lower it to 1.0%, thereby diminishing overall insurance rates by 0.5% and reducing health-insurance premiums. The GMCB found that a 1.5% base CTR was “excessive” because Blue Cross was expected to be above its target Risk Based Capital (RBC) range by the end of 2021, “individuals and small businesses are still struggling financially after a year-long economic slowdown,” and a 1.0% CTR would allow its “reserves to sit comfortably within the company’s RBC target range.” Blue Cross moved for reconsideration, arguing that the term “excessive” was strictly actuarial in nature, and that the GMCB misconstrued it by weighing non-actuarial evidence— testimony concerning affordability—as part of its examination of whether the proposed rate was excessive. On appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, Blue Cross raised essentially the same issue. Because none of the actuarial experts who testified concluded that Blue Cross’s proposed CTR was excessive, Blue Cross argued, the GMCB could not properly conclude that it was. Blue Cross conceded that health-insurance rates for 2022 could not now be changed, but it urged the Supreme Court to rule on the merits, arguing that this matter was not moot because the CTR rate for this year will disadvantage Blue Cross in future rate-review proceedings. The Supreme Court determined Blue Cross did not demonstrate that this kind of case was capable of repetition yet evading review or subjected it to continuing negative collateral consequences. Therefore, Blue Cross failed to meet the exceptional thresholds necessary for the Court to reach the merits in a moot case. View "In re Blue Cross and Blue Shield 2022 Individual & Small Group Market Filing" on Justia Law

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Bliss Sequoia Insurance and Risk Advisors held an insurance policy from Allied Property and Casualty Insurance (Allied Property) covering any liability that Bliss Sequoia might incur for “damages because of ‘bodily injury.’” One of Bliss Sequoia’s clients was a water park, and after a park guest was injured, the park sued Bliss Sequoia for professional negligence, alleging that the coverage limits on the park’s liability insurance were too low. This appeal presents the question whether that negligence claim arose “because of” the guest’s “bodily injury” and is therefore covered by Bliss Sequoia’s policy. We agree with the district court that the answer is no.   The panel affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Allied Property. Allied’s policy provided that it covered any sums Bliss Sequoia was “legally obligated to pay as damages because of ‘bodily injury’ or ‘property damage.’” Bliss Sequoia alleged that the bodily injury at issue was a “but-for” cause of Bliss Sequoia’s professional-negligence liability. The panel held that pure but-for causation would result in infinite liability for all wrongful acts, and therefore, the law almost never employs that standard without limiting it in some way. The law cuts off remote chains of causation by applying common law principles of proximate causation. Further, the personal-injury lawsuit against the water park arose “because of bodily injury,” but the claims of professional negligence did not. Because Bliss Sequoia’s policy did not cover those claims, Allied had no duty to defend or indemnify Bliss Sequoia against them. View "BLISS SEQUOIA INSURANCE, ET AL V. ALLIED PROPERTY & CASUALTY INS" on Justia Law

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Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company (“Farm Bureau”) issued a term life insurance policy to S.M. S.M.’s husband, Plaintiff, who was the policy’s primary beneficiary. Farm Bureau received a notification from the Post Office indicating that S.M.’s address had changed. Farm Bureau sent its semiannual bill to S.M. at her South Carolina address, informing her that her payment was due on November 23, 2016. S.M. did not pay the bill. Plaintiff sued Farm Bureau in federal district court, seeking the policy’s coverage amount as well as excess damages for alleged unfair and deceptive trade practices on the part of Farm Bureau. He argued that Farm Bureau had not complied with a statutory notice requirement prior to canceling the insurance policy for nonpayment and he was therefore entitled to the policy’s benefits. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment to Farm Bureau.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed finding that Farm Bureau complied with the statute’s notice requirement. The court wrote that a literal interpretation of the statute’s language—referring to a notice being sent to the “last known post-office address in this State”—would not put S.M. on notice at all. Rather it would have Farm Bureau send “notice” to an address where it knows she no longer resides. Additionally, there is substance in Farm Bureau’s argument that a rigidly literal reading of the words “in this State” would require insurers to implement burdensome and nonsensical notice policies. View "Robert Whitmire v. Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Olson and Zdroik sustained injuries while volunteering at municipal fireworks displays in 2018. Fireworks distributed by Spielbauer Fireworks exploded prematurely at both events, severely burning the two. Both towns used teams of volunteers to operate their Fourth of July displays. Olson opened and closed a bin from which other volunteers retrieved fireworks during the Rib Lake show. Zdroik worked at the Land O’Lakes event as a “shooter,” manually lighting the fuses on mortar shells.Spielbauer’s insurer, T.H.E. Insurance, contested coverage under Spielbauer’s general and excess liability policies, which stated: This policy shall NOT provide coverage of any kind ... for any claims arising out of injuries or death to shooters or their assistants hired to perform fireworks displays or any other persons assisting or aiding in the display of fireworks whether or not any of the foregoing are employed by the Named Insured, any shooter or any assistant. The issue was whether the exclusion extends to all volunteers or only to those assisting hired shooters or hired assistants.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, in favor of T.H.E. Insurance. The Shooters Endorsement plainly and unambiguously excludes from coverage hired shooters and their hired assistants and “any other persons” who assist the fireworks display, regardless of whether they assist hired persons. View "T.H.E. Insurance Co. v. Olson" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Javier Vasquez and his employer, Matosantos International Corporation (MIC), appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) determination that it could not order respondent, The Hartford Insurance Company, to pay workers’ compensation benefits to Vasquez. The CAB concluded that the Department of Labor (DOL), and therefore the CAB, lacked jurisdiction under the New Hampshire Workers’ Compensation Law to interpret the workers’ compensation insurance policy that MIC had purchased from The Hartford. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the CAB did have jurisdiction to consider and resolve the coverage dispute between MIC and The Hartford, it vacated the CAB’s decision and remanded for its consideration, in the first instance, of whether the policy purchased by MIC covered Vasquez when he was injured while working in New Hampshire. View "Appeal of Vasquez" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), sought reversal of a Court of Appeals decision affirming the partial summary judgment rulings that an “all risk” insurance policy did not provide coverage for certain losses. At issue in WSDOT’s petition for review was whether the loss of use or functionality of the insured property constituted “physical loss” or “physical damage” that triggered coverage. STP’s petition asked whether the insurance policy excluded coverage for damage to the insured property caused by alleged design defects and whether the policy covers delay losses. This case arose out of a major construction project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle. In 2011, STP contracted with WSDOT to construct a tunnel to replace the viaduct. The project started in July 2013. A tunnel boring machine (TBM) used in the project stopped working in December 2013, and did not resume until December 2015. The project was unable to continue during the two-year period while the TBM was disassembled, removed, and repaired. STP and WSDOT tendered insurance claims under the Policy. Great Lakes denied coverage, and STP and WSDOT sued the insurers, alleging wrongful denial of their claims. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding that even if it interpreted “direct physical loss or damage” to include loss of use, no coverage under Section 1 is triggered because the alleged loss of use was not caused by a physical condition impacting the insured property. View "Seattle Tunnel Partners v. Great Lakes Reinsurance (UK) PLC" on Justia Law

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Lanclos was born in 1982 at the Keesler Air Force Base Medical Center. During childbirth, she was seriously injured and as a result, suffers from Athetoid cerebral palsy. The settlement agreement for Lanclos’s medical malpractice suit required the government to make lump sum payments to Lanclos’s parents and their attorney; Lanclos would receive a single lump sum payment followed by specific monthly payments for the longer of 30 years or the remainder of her life. The government would purchase an annuity policy to provide the monthly payments. The government selected Executive Insurance to provide the monthly annuity payments. Executive encountered financial difficulties and, in 2014, reduced the amount of the monthly payments by 42%. Lanclos estimates that the reduction will result in a shortfall of $731,288.81 from the amount described in the settlement agreement.The Court of Federal Claims reasoned that the “guarantee” language in the Lanclos agreement applies to the scheduled monthly structure of the payments but not the actual payment of the listed amounts and that the government was not liable for the shortfall. The Federal Circuit reversed. Under the ordinary meaning of the term “guarantee” and consistent with the agreement as a whole, the government agreed to assure fulfillment of the listed monthly payments; there is no reasonable basis to conclude that the parties sought to define “guarantee” or to give the term an alternative meaning. View "Lanclos v. United States" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to an arbitration award, American Home paid workers’ compensation benefits to an employee injured in 2008. American did not file a notice before the arbitration that, pursuant to Iowa Code 85.21, it was paying the claim subject to a potential coverage issue. By 2013, American paid all the benefits owed under the arbitration award. In 2016, the employee sought to reopen the case. American then filed a section 85.21 notice seeking reimbursement of benefits paid to the employee, claiming that on the date of injury Liberty Mutual was providing the employer with workers’ compensation coverage.The workers’ compensation commissioner concluded that in order to be entitled to reimbursement, American was required to file section 85.21 notice before the arbitration proceeding and could not, years later, seek to be reimbursed. The district court reversed, reasoning that section 85.21 gave the commissioner broad power to order reimbursement, not time-limited in the statute. The court of appeals, agreeing with the commissioner, reversed. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed. The commissioner may require that insurance carriers obtain a section 85.21 reimbursement order before an evidentiary hearing in order to seek indemnity or contribution from another carrier. The procedural question is not controlled by the substantive provisions of section 85.21. The commissioner has simply established a rule of procedure for handling section 85.21 claims. View "American Home Assurance v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law