Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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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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Saltz, a plastic surgeon, was sued by a former patient for releasing her photographs to a news outlet. Saltz submitted his legal defense to his malpractice insurance provider, UMIA, which initially defended Saltz but sought a declaratory judgment, claiming that Saltz lacked insurance coverage for the former patient’s claims. The district court found that Saltz was not covered under the plain language of the policy and dismissed his claim for waiver and his request for punitive damages but denied UMIA’s motion for judgment as a matter of law and allowed Saltz’s promissory estoppel and breach of the duty of good faith claims. Over UMIA’s objections, the court also allowed evidence from a settlement negotiation to be presented to the jury, which found in favor of Saltz on both claims.The Utah Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings on Saltz’s requests for punitive damages and for attorney fees incurred on appeal. The district court properly allowed Saltz’s claims for promissory estoppel and breach of the duty of good faith to go to the jury; the court was correct to deny UMIA’s motion for a new trial on the claim for breach of the duty of good faith. The court upheld the admission of evidence from the settlement talks. The district court erred in dismissing Saltz’s claims for waiver and for punitive damages. View "UMIA Insurance, Inc. v. Saltz" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, Medical Mutual Insurance Company (“Med Mutual”) was the insurance carrier for numerous defendants in medical malpractice suit. Med Mutual provided the defense for the state case but, during discovery, alleged that one of the insureds had made a material modification to the Decedent’s medical records. Med Mutual brought the federal action seeking a declaratory judgment concluding that it has no obligation to provide insurance coverage for the defense of the state case. The district court declined to exercise jurisdiction over a declaratory judgment action while a parallel action was pending in state court.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The court explained when a Section 2201 action is filed in federal court while a parallel state case is pending, the court has recognized that “courts have broad discretion to abstain from deciding declaratory judgment actions.” When deciding whether to hear such a declaratory judgment action, the court considers four factors: (1) whether the state has a strong interest in having the issues decided in its courts; (2) whether the state courts could resolve the issues more efficiently than the federal courts; (3) whether the presence of “overlapping issues of fact or law” might create unnecessary “entanglement” between the state and federal courts; and (4) whether the federal action is mere “procedural fencing”. Here, the factors favoring abstention are at least as strong, if not stronger, than those favoring retention and Med Mutual has not demonstrated an abuse by the district court of its broad discretion. View "Medical Mutual Insurance Co NC v. Rebecca Littaua" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm) filed an Insurance Fraud Protection Act (IFPA) action alleging defendants Sonny Rubin, M.D., Sonny Rubin, M.D., Inc., and Newport Institute of Minimally Invasive Surgery (collectively, defendants) fraudulently billed insurers for various services performed in connection with epidural steroid injections. A month prior, however, another insurer, Allstate, filed a separate IFPA lawsuit against the same defendants, alleging they were perpetrating a similar fraud on Allstate. The trial court sustained defendants’ demurrer to State Farm’s complaint under the IFPA’s first-to-file rule, finding it alleged the same fraud as Allstate’s complaint. State Farm appealed, arguing its complaint alleged a distinct fraud. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed the demurrer was incorrectly sustained, but for another reason. The Court found the trial court and both parties only focused on whether the two complaints alleged the same fraudulent scheme, but in this matter of first impression, the Court found the IFPA’s first-to-file rule required an additional inquiry. "Courts must also review the specific insurer-victims underlying each complaint’s request for penalties. If each complaint seeks penalties for false insurance claims relating to different groups of insurer-victims, the first-to-file rule does not apply. A subsequent complaint is only barred under the first-to-file rule if the prior complaint alleges the same fraud and seeks penalties arising from the false claims, submitted to the same insurer-victims." Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "California ex rel. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Rubin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition sought by West Virginia Mutual Insurance Company (Mutual) from the order of the circuit court denying Mutual's motion for summary judgment on common law bad faith claims brought by Michael Covelli, M.D., holding that Mutual demonstrated that the writ of prohibition was appropriate.A jury awarded Dominique Adkins almost $5.8 million on her medical malpractice claim against Dr. Covelli, which was above the limits of his medical malpractice insurance. However, Mutual, Covelli's insurer, settled Adkins's suit within policy limits before the circuit court reduced the verdict to judgment. When a second patient of Dr. Covelli learned of Adkins's large jury award, that patient too sued Dr. Covelli for malpractice. Mutual also settled that claim within policy limits. Thereafter, Dr. Covellie sued Mutual for common law bad faith. At issue was the order of the circuit court denying Mutual's motion for summary judgment on Dr. Covelli's claims. The Supreme Court granted the writ, holding that the circuit court clearly erred by denying Mutual's motion for summary judgment. View "State ex rel. W. Va. Mutual Insurance Co. v. Honorable Salango" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's grant of summary judgment for the defendants in this insurance dispute, holding that the Legislature has clearly and unequivocally excluded captive insurers from the requirements of the Kentucky Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act (USCPA), Ky. Rev. Stat. 304.12-230.Plaintiff brought this action against various healthcare defendants. The medical negligence claims were eventually settled. Thereafter, the circuit court denied Plaintiff's motion for declaratory relief as to his bad faith insurance claim against First Initiatives Insurance, Ltd., a foreign captive insurance entity that provides self-insurance for Catholic Health Initiatives, Inc. The court granted summary judgment for Catholic Health and First Initiatives. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that First Initiatives, as a captive insurer, is not subject to the USCPA. View "Merritt v. Catholic Health Initiatives, Inc." on Justia Law

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Group Health Cooperative (GHO) provided health insurance benefits to Nathaniel (Joel) Coon, who suffered a serious fungal infection and amputation following knee surgery at the Everett Clinic (TEC). The Coon family later settled potential negligence claims against TEC, and GHO initiated this lawsuit seeking reimbursement of its payments from the settlement proceeds. At issue before the Washington Supreme Court was whether genuine issues of material fact remained to preclude summary judgment in favor of GHO regarding whether the settlement constituted full compensation to Coon, and whether GHO suffered prejudice from the Coons’ failure to provide notice prior to finalizing the settlement. The Supreme Court concurred with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that genuine issues of fact still remained, making summary judgment inappropriate. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Grp. Health Coop. v. Coon" on Justia Law

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Douglas Ghee, as the personal representative of the estate of Billy Fleming, appealed a circuit court order dismissing a wrongful-death claim brought against USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas ("Blue Advantage"). Fleming presented to the emergency department complaining of constipation and abdominal pain. He would ultimately need a colectomy, but the hospital informed him Blue Advantage had decided that a lower quality of care (continued non-surgical management) was more appropriate than the higher quality of care (surgery) that Fleming's surgeon felt was appropriate. Fleming and his family had multiple conversations with agents of Blue Advantage in an unsuccessful attempt to convince the company that the higher surgery was the more appropriate course of care. Ultimately, an agent of Blue Advantage suggested to Fleming that he return to the hospital in an attempt to convince hospital personnel and physicians to perform the surgery on an emergency basis. For five days, Fleming would present to the emergency room, each time he was treated by non-surgical means, then returned home. On the evening of July 15, 2013, Fleming's condition had deteriorated such that he had to be intubated. He died after midnight of septic shock due to a perforated sigmoid colon with abundant fecal material in the peritoneal cavity. A lawsuit was filed against Blue Advantage, asserting that the combined negligence of the hospitals and clinics involved and Blue Advantage, proximately caused Fleming's death. Because the trial court determined that Ghee's allegations against Blue Advantage as stated in the original complaint were defensively preempted by ERISA, the Alabama Supreme Court found Ghee should have had the right to amend his complaint to clarify his state-law claims. Because the Court concluded that Ghee should have been afforded the right to amend his complaint, it reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghee v. USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas" on Justia Law

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SC, an outpatient surgical center, permits outside physicians to perform day surgery at its facility. Its insurance limited APA’s liability to $1 million per claim. In 2002, Dr. Hasson, an outside physician, performed outpatient laparoscopic surgery on Tate at SC. Hasson did not see Tate or sign her discharge instructions before SC released her; SC’s anesthesiologist discharged Tate, giving Tate's boyfriend discharge instructions. Days later, Tate checked into the hospital with a perforated bowel that rendered the previously-healthy 34‐year‐old a quadriplegic. Tate sued Hasson and SC. APA hired attorneys to defend SC. APA set the “Reserve” (money the Michigan Department of Insurance required APA to put aside to cover an adverse verdict) at $560,000. APA believed the damages could exceed the policy limit but that SC was not likely to be found liable. In 2007, APA rejected Tate's offer to settle for policy limits. Hasson’s insurer settled for his policy limit ($1 million). After the Illinois Appellate Court remanded the issue of whether SC’s nursing staff breached the standard of care, APA raised the Reserve to $1 million, stating that it still believed the case was defensible. Before the second trial, APA rejected Tate's second settlement demand for the policy limit. The jury returned a $5.17 million verdict. SC then sued APA for bad faith. The Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment as a matter of law in favor of APA. SC did not establish that anyone involved in litigating the case believed there was more than a mere possibility SC would be found liable; the mere possibility of liability is insufficient under the Illinois Supreme Court’s reasonable probability standard. View "Surgery Center at 900 North Michigan Avenue, LLC v. American Physicians Assurance Corp., Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2002, in Texas, Dr. Phillips performed a laparoscopic hysterectomy on Bramlett, a 36-year-old mother. While hospitalized, Bramlett suffered internal bleeding and died. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and Dr. Phillips, who held a $200,000 professional liability insurance policy with MedPro. He notified MedPro of the lawsuit. In 2003, the hospital settled with the Bramletts for approximately $2.3 million. The Bramletts wrote to Dr. Phillips’s attorney, Davidson, with a $200,000 Stowers demand; under Texas law, if an insurer rejects a plaintiff's demand that is within the insured’s policy limit and that a reasonably prudent insurer would accept, the insurer will later be liable for any amount awarded over the policy limit. MedPro twice refused to settle. The family won a $14 million verdict. The Supreme Court of Texas capped Dr. Phillips’s liability. The family sued MedPro, which settled. MedPro was insured by AISLIC, which declined to cover MedPro’s settlement. The district court granted AISLIC summary judgment, concluding that coverage was excluded because MedPro should have foreseen the family’s claim. An exclusion precluded coverage for “any claim arising out of any Wrongful Act” which occurred prior to June 30, 2005, if before that date MedPro “knew or could have reasonably foreseen that such Wrongful Act could lead to a claim.” The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, finding genuine issues of material fact regarding whether MedPro’s failure to settle was a Wrongful Act and whether MedPro could have foreseen a "claim" before the malpractice trial. View "Medical Protective Co. of Fort Wayne, Indiana v. American International Specialty Lines Insurance Co." on Justia Law