Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed a lower court's decision that an insurance agency, Rames Inc., formerly known as Central Insurance Agency, had a duty to procure additional insurance coverage for a construction company, TCF Enterprises Inc., also known as Malmquist Construction. Rames was found to have breached that duty, thereby breaching the standard of care and negligently misrepresenting that it had obtained the coverage. The court also found that the policy's professional services exclusion would not have barred coverage for defense and indemnity. The dispute arose after Malmquist was sued by a developer due to a construction defect and realized it wasn't covered as an additional insured under a subcontractor's insurance policy as it had believed. Rames had been told by the subcontractor to add Malmquist as an additional insured, but it failed to do so. The jury awarded damages to Malmquist in the amount of $1,022,257.85. Rames appealed, but the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision. View "TCF Enterprises, Inc. v. Rames, Inc." on Justia Law

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In a dispute arising from a failed subdivision in Missoula County, Montana, a group of property purchasers, led by Gilbert and Judith Johnston, claimed that Flying S Title and Escrow, Inc., breached a purported contract to provide title insurance for the properties they bought. The properties were originally platted as lots, but the purchasers believed that they would eventually be reconfigured into larger parcels. However, the necessary infrastructure was not installed and the amended plat was never recorded, so the parcels never came into existence. The purchasers claimed that pro forma documents provided by Flying S constituted a contract to insure the parcels. The Supreme Court of Montana disagreed, ruling that the pro forma documents did not constitute a contract, but were merely an offer to issue a title insurance policy for the parcels, subject to the terms stated in the documents. The court noted that a contract for title insurance could not exist under the pro forma documents because the parcels, and the title thereto, never existed. Furthermore, the court found that Flying S had not been unjustly enriched by the purchasers' premium payments because it had provided, as agreed, title insurance for the transaction completed by the purchasers to buy the lots. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's decision in favor of Flying S Title and Escrow, Inc. View "Johnston v. Flying S Title & Escrow, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case, the Plaintiff, Barbara M. Parmenter, had subscribed to a long-term care insurance policy offered by her employer, Tufts University, and underwritten by The Prudential Insurance Company of America. The policy was governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. After Prudential twice increased Parmenter's premium rate payments for her policy, she sued Tufts and Prudential, alleging each breached their respective fiduciary duties owed to her when Prudential increased those rates. The defendants responded with motions to dismiss for failure to state a plausible claim. The district court granted each of their motions and Parmenter appealed.The United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit found that the language in the policy stating that premium increases would be "subject to the approval of the Massachusetts Commissioner of Insurance" was ambiguous, and could not be definitively interpreted based solely on the pleadings and contract documents currently available. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's decision to dismiss the case against Prudential and remanded it for further proceedings.However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the case against Tufts, as Parmenter's allegations that Tufts failed to prevent the premium rate increases or monitor Prudential did not fall into one of the categories of co-fiduciary liability set forth in section 1105(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. View "Parmenter v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America" on Justia Law

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The case involved an appellant, Jonathan Martins, who filed a lawsuit against Vermont Mutual Insurance Company. Martins' vehicle was involved in an accident with a vehicle insured by Vermont Mutual. He claimed that the insurance company failed to compensate him for the inherent diminished value (IDV) of his vehicle after the accident. The case was first heard in a district court that ruled in favor of Vermont Mutual, stating the standard Massachusetts automobile insurance policy did not provide coverage for IDV damages. Martins appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.The Court of Appeals reviewed the district court's decision and maintained that the district court correctly ruled in favor of Vermont Mutual. The court held that under Massachusetts law, a third-party claimant such as Martins could not maintain a direct cause of action against an insurer without first obtaining a final judgment against the insured party involved in the accident. The court also rejected Martins' argument that Vermont Mutual was estopped from denying liability for IDV damages because it had paid for other damages related to the accident. The court concluded that the insurer's obligation to make a reasonable settlement offer did not equate to admitting liability. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's ruling in favor of Vermont Mutual. View "Martins v. Vermont Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, an insurance company, Berkley National Insurance Company, sued two of its insureds, Granite Telecommunications, LLC and Atlantic-Newport Realty LLC, seeking restitution for both the payment it had made to settle a personal-injury lawsuit against the insureds and the costs it had incurred to defend them against that suit. The insurer, Berkley, also sought a declaratory judgement that it had no duty to defend or indemnify the insureds with respect to the personal-injury claims that they were facing. The District Court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Berkley, ordering the insureds to pay restitution for both the insurer's defense costs and its settlement payment. The insureds appealed the judgment.The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's order, concluding that the rulings conflicted with Massachusetts law governing when a liability insurer who has chosen to defend its insureds may seek reimbursement from them. The Court stated that under Massachusetts law, a liability insurer can only seek reimbursement for an amount paid to settle a lawsuit if the insured has agreed that the insurer may commit its own funds to a reasonable settlement with a right to seek reimbursement, or if the insurer secures specific authority to reach a particular settlement which the insured agrees to pay. The Court found that the insurer, Berkley, did not meet any of these conditions, and as a result, it could not seek reimbursement from the insureds. Consequently, the Court vacated the grant of summary judgment to the insurer and dismissed the remainder of the appeal as moot. View "Berkley National Ins. Co. v. Atlantic-Newport Realty LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One State of California decided on a matter concerning an automobile insurance policy. The plaintiffs, Silvia Escarcega and Alberto Molinar, who are the parents of Tania Molinar, filed a lawsuit against 21st Century Insurance Company (defendant) for refusal to defend or indemnify their daughter in a lawsuit brought against her following a car accident she caused. The insurer denied coverage on the grounds that the policy had been cancelled due to nonpayment of premiums prior to the accident. The plaintiffs argued that the insurer had a duty to give advance notice of cancellation not only to them as policyholders but also to their adult daughter who was named as an insured driver on their policy and whose vehicle was also insured under the policy.The court held that under Insurance Code section 662, subdivision (a), the insurer was required to give advance notice of cancellation to the adult daughter. Because the insurer did not give notice to the adult daughter, the policy was still legally in effect when she got into the accident driving her covered vehicle without knowledge of the purported cancellation. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court's summary judgment in favor of the insurer on claims arising out of its refusal to defend or indemnify the daughter. The court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Molinar v. 21st Century Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In this case, a South Carolina court-appointed receiver brought an action against Travelers Casualty and Surety Company and other insurers, alleging breaches of insurance policies issued to a defunct company within a state receivership. Travelers removed the action to federal court, asserting diversity jurisdiction. However, the district court granted the receiver’s motion to remand the case back to state court. The court held that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because the case involved property of a state receivership exclusively under the jurisdiction of the state court (based on the doctrine articulated in Barton v. Barbour), and the removal lacked unanimous consent of all defendants due to a forum selection clause in some of the insurance policies issued to the defunct company.Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal, holding that the district court's conclusions in support of remand were at least colorably supported. The court found that the district court's reliance on a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and procedural defect as grounds for remand were colorably supported, and thus, not reviewable under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d). The court also concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to review the district court's remand order and dismissed the appeal. View "Protopapas v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Co." on Justia Law

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This case revolves around a dispute between insurance companies Zurich American Insurance Company and American Guarantee and Liability Insurance Company (collectively, “Zurich”), and Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC (“Syngenta”), a company that manufactures and sells paraquat, a chemical compound used in herbicides that has been linked to the onset of Parkinson's disease. Zurich had issued primary commercial general liability policies and umbrella policies to Syngenta covering periods from January 1, 2017 to January 1, 2020.In January 2016, before the Zurich policies took effect, Syngenta received a letter from a law firm representing numerous victims of Parkinson’s disease who alleged they had been exposed to paraquat. The letter, while threatening future litigation, did not identify any individual claimants or specify any damages. The law firm did not file any lawsuits until after the inception of the Zurich policies.Zurich denied coverage for the lawsuits, arguing that the 2016 letter constituted a “claim for damages" that fell outside the policy period. Syngenta disagreed, arguing that the letter was too unclear and amorphous to constitute a claim for damages. The Superior Court of the State of Delaware sided with Syngenta, holding that the letter did not constitute a "claim for damages" under the Zurich policies.The Supreme Court of the State of Delaware affirmed the lower court's decision. The Court held that a “claim for damages” is a demand or request for monetary relief by or on behalf of an identifiable claimant. The Court found that the letter did not constitute a claim for damages because it did not identify any claimants or demand any monetary relief. The Court also upheld the lower court's dismissal of Syngenta's bad-faith counterclaim against Zurich, finding that Zurich had reasonable grounds to deny coverage at the time of the denial. View "Zurich American Insurance Company v. Syngenta Crop Protection LLC" on Justia Law

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Aluminum Recovery Technologies (ART) operates a smelter and during a renovation, one of its furnaces failed, causing molten aluminum to escape and damage the plant and the furnace itself. The insurance company, ACE American Insurance, paid for some of the damages but not the cost of replacing the furnace's refractory. ART sued ACE, arguing that an explosion in the furnace caused the damage and thus, the insurance company should cover the refractory replacement costs. However, the insurer argued that the policy specifically excludes coverage for any damage to the refractory lining unless it directly results from specific perils such as fire, lightning, windstorm, hail, or explosion. The United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in favor of ACE. The court held that the explosion did not necessarily cause the leak, and ART failed to provide engineering evidence to support its claims. Additionally, the court found that ART had consented to the investigation protocol proposed by the insurer's experts, which involved destructive testing that led to the need for the refractory's replacement. Therefore, the insurer was not responsible for the additional expenses incurred due to the replacement of the refractory lining. View "Aluminum Recovery Technologies, Inc. v. Ace American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Cobalt International Energy partnered with three Angolan companies to explore and produce oil and gas off the coast of West Africa. Later, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission announced it was investigating Cobalt for allegations of illegal payments to Angolan government officials and misrepresentation of the oil content of two of its exploratory wells. This led to a significant drop in Cobalt’s stock price and prompted a class action lawsuit from Cobalt's investors, led by GAMCO, a collection of investment funds that held Cobalt shares. Prior to these events, Cobalt had purchased multiple layers of liability insurance from a number of insurance companies, collectively referred to as the Insurers in this case. When the allegations surfaced, Cobalt notified the Insurers, who denied coverage on the grounds that Cobalt's notice was untimely and certain policy provisions excluded the claims from coverage.In 2017, Cobalt filed for bankruptcy and began settlement negotiations with GAMCO. Eventually, a settlement agreement was reached, which stipulated that Cobalt would pay a settlement amount of $220 million to GAMCO, but only from any insurance proceeds that might be recovered. Cobalt and GAMCO then jointly sought approval of the settlement from the federal court and the bankruptcy court, both of which granted approval.The Insurers then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, arguing that the settlement agreement was not binding or admissible in the coverage litigation, that Cobalt had not suffered a "loss" under the policies, and that GAMCO could not sue the Insurers directly.The Supreme Court of Texas held that (1) Cobalt had suffered a “loss” under the policies because it was legally obligated to pay any recoverable insurance benefits to GAMCO, (2) GAMCO could assert claims directly against the Insurers, and (3) the settlement agreement was not binding or admissible in the coverage litigation to establish coverage or the amount of Cobalt’s loss. The court reasoned that the settlement was not the result of a "fully adversarial proceeding," as Cobalt bore no actual risk of liability for the damages agreed upon in the settlement. The court conditionally granted the Insurers' petition for a writ of mandamus in part, ordering the trial court to vacate its previous orders to the extent they relied on the holding that the settlement agreement was admissible and binding to establish coverage under the policies and the amount of any covered loss. View "IN RE ILLINOIS NATIONAL INSURANCE COMPANY" on Justia Law