Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Defendant Foy Insurance Group, Inc. appealed a jury's verdict rendered in favor of the plaintiff, 101 Ocean Blvd., LLC (Ocean), finding that Foy was negligent for failing to advise Ocean to purchase sufficient insurance coverage to rebuild a hotel, damaged in a 2015 fire, in compliance with the current building code and awarding damages to Ocean. After review of the superior court record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the trial court's denial of Foy's motions for a directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict. View "101 Ocean Blvd., LLC v. Foy Insurance Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant Factory Mutual Insurance Company (Factory Mutual) appealed a superior court order denying its motion for summary judgment and granting plaintiffs' Daniel Ro and Sebastian Lim motion. Plaintiffs sought a declaration they were implied co-insureds under a fire insurance policy issued by Factory Mutual to the Trustees of Dartmouth College. Plaintiffs were students in 2016 living in campus dormitories. Prior to being assigned a dormitory room, each plaintiff was required to sign a form acknowledging receipt and understanding of the college’s student handbook, which included prohibitions on: (1) possessing charcoal grills in student housing; (2) lighting and burning of any item with an open flame in residence halls; and (3) placing items on, and the use of, “the roof, portico, fire escape, or any other architectural feature not designed for recreational or functional use, except in cases of emergency.” Plaintiffs set up a charcoal grill on a platform outside a fourth floor window in Lim’s dormitory. The grill started a fire on the platform, which then spread to the roof. Firefighters used a substantial quantity of water to extinguish the fire, and all four floors of the dormitory sustained water damage. Factory Mutual, which insured the building, paid the Trustees $4,544,313.55 and then brought a subrogation claim against plaintiffs to recover that amount. The trial court concluded that Factory Mutual could not maintain its counterclaims against either plaintiff, specifically noting, “To the extent Mr. Lim’s possessory interest in Morton Hall is insurable, so is Mr. Ro’s. Mr. Ro’s possessory interest in Morton Hall is analogous to that of a tenant who rents one unit in a residential complex but causes fire damage to another unit in the complex.” In affirming the superior court, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that, even if plaintiffs lacked a possessory interest in their dormitories, and even if their relationship with the college was not strictly that of landlord and tenant, they had a contractual relationship with the college in which they paid for the right, subject to the noted limitations, among others, to occupy a college dormitory for a certain period of time. "This contractual relationship gave rise to the reasonable expectation that Dartmouth College carried fire insurance on its dormitories, that the plaintiffs’ room and board fees contributed, in some way, to the premium for that insurance, and, therefore, that the insurance inured to their benefit." View "Ro v. Factory Mutual Insurance Company, as Subrogee of Trustees of Dartmouth College" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Andrew Panaggio appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (Board) determination that respondent, CNA Insurance Company (the insurer), could not be ordered to reimburse him for his purchase of medical marijuana because such reimbursement would have constituted aiding and abetting his commission of a federal crime under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). When Panaggio appealed the insurer’s denial to the New Hampshire Department of Labor, a hearing officer agreed with the insurer. Panaggio appealed the hearing officer’s decision to the Board, which unanimously found that his use of medical marijuana was reasonable and medically necessary. Nonetheless, the Board upheld the insurer’s refusal to reimburse Panaggio, concluding that “the carrier is not able to provide medical marijuana because such reimbursement is not legal under state or federal law.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court surmised the issue on appeal raised a question of federal preemption, "which is essentially a matter of statutory interpretation and construction." Although it was an issue of first impression for the New Hampshire Court, other courts considered whether the CSA preempted a state order requiring reimbursement of an employee’s purchase of medical marijuana. Panaggio reasoned that “[b]ecause New Hampshire law unambiguously requires the insurer to pay for the claimant’s medically related treatment,” an insurer that reimburses a claimant for the purchase of medical marijuana acts without the volition required by the federal aiding and abetting statute. The insurer asserted Panaggio’s argument leads to an absurd result, observing that “[c]onflict preemption applies because state law requires what federal law forbids.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court ultimately concluded the CSA did not make it illegal for an insurer to reimburse an employee for his or her purchase of medical marijuana. "[A] Board order to reimburse Panaggio does not interfere with the federal government’s ability to enforce the CSA. Regardless of whether the insurer is ordered to reimburse Panaggio for his medical marijuana purchase, the federal government is free to prosecute him for simple possession of marijuana under the CSA." Under these circumstances, the Court concluded the “high threshold” for preemption “is not met here.” The Board's decision was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Appeal of Andrew Panaggio" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Genworth Life Insurance Company challenged amended regulations promulgated by the New Hampshire Department of Insurance (Department) retroactively limiting rate increases for long-term care insurance (LTCI) policies. Plaintiff provided LTCI to over 6,000 New Hampshire residents. It appealed superior court orders dismissing its claim that the regulations violate the contract clauses of the State and Federal Constitutions, and entering summary judgment for the Department with respect to plaintiff’s claims that the regulations were ultra vires and violated the takings clauses of the State and Federal Constitutions. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the regulations were ultra vires, and, therefore, invalid, the Court reversed and remanded. View "Genworth Life Ins. Co. v. New Hampshire Dep't of Ins." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff John O’Donnell appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to defendant Allstate Indemnity Company. Following a November 2015 motor vehicle accident, O’Donnell filed an underinsured motorist claim under a personal umbrella insurance policy that he had purchased from Allstate. Allstate denied the claim. O’Donnell then filed this declaratory judgment action to determine whether his policy provided uninsured motorist coverage. The trial court concluded that O’Donnell’s policy did not provide uninsured motorist coverage, finding that a written waiver of uninsured motorist coverage that O’Donnell had executed in September 2011 remained in effect at the time of the accident. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "O'Donnell v. Allstate Indemnity Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Steve and Pamela Zannini, appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to defendant Phenix Mutual Fire Insurance Company, on plaintiffs’ breach of contract and declaratory judgment claims. In March 2016, the plaintiffs’ Ashland, New Hampshire residence sustained “significant flooding” as the result of burst pipes. The house was insured by defendant, and plaintiffs filed a claim for water damage. Defendant sent an adjuster to investigate, who instructed plaintiffs to remove the floor of the house so that he could investigate the area underneath. After they did so, the house began to collapse, and plaintiffs repaired its framing to prevent it from collapsing completely. As a result of removing the floor, plaintiffs “suffered a complete loss [of the house] and direct physical loss of [their] personal property and use of the [house] for a substantial amount of time.” On May 3, 2016, defendant sent the plaintiffs a letter denying coverage of the damage caused by the collapse. Plaintiffs argued on appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court that: (1) a provision in the insurance policy at issue requiring that suits be brought within one year of the date of loss was unenforceable because it violated public policy; and (2) genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether defendant’s communications tolled the one-year period, and defendant was estopped from asserting or waived it as a defense. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding the one-year limitation period did not violate the public policy underlying statutes of limitations. Further, the communications between the parties did not create issues of material fact as to whether the one- year period was tolled or whether the defendant waived or was otherwise estopped from asserting the provision as a defense. View "Zannini v. Phenix Mutual Fire Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Defendant Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company (Metropolitan), appealed a superior court order partially granting and partially denying its summary judgment motion as well as a cross-motion filed by plaintiff Joseph Santos. Santos held a personal excess liability policy with Metropolitan that included excess underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. After Metropolitan denied a claim made by Santos for excess UIM benefits after Santos was hurt in a motorcycle accident, he brought this declaratory judgment action. The trial court ruled that Metropolitan was liable to Santos for excess UIM benefits. Metropolitan argued the trial court erred in so holding because Santos’s policy required, as a precondition to receiving excess UIM benefits, that he carry a certain amount of underlying insurance coverage, and Santos did not do so. Santos argued his lack of sufficient underlying coverage allowed Metropolitan to reduce its excess UIM liability but not escape it altogether. Finding no error in the superior court's judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed partial summary judgment. View "Santos v. Metropolitan Property & Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant Allstate Insurance Company appealed a superior court order granting the motion for partial summary judgment filed by plaintiff Joseph Rizzo, and denying the cross-motion for partial summary judgment filed by Allstate. Rizzo alleged he was injured in an automobile accident while a passenger in a car insured by Allstate. Rizzo sought uninsured motorist coverage under the Allstate policy, and, after Allstate denied his claim, the claim went to arbitration. The uninsured motorist provision in the Allstate policy provided that if the arbitration award exceeded $25,000, the financial responsibility limit in New Hampshire, the insured and Allstate had the right to elect a trial de novo following arbitration. Allstate rejected the arbitration award, which exceeded the financial responsibility limits, and requested a trial de novo. The trial court ruled that the trial de novo provision in the policy was not enforceable because it was unconscionable, ambiguous, and violated public policy, and confirmed the arbitration award. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial de novo provision did not contravene New Hampshire public policy regarding arbitration. Nor did the Supreme Court find the trial de novo provision unconscionable. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Rizzo v. Allstate Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Brian and Nancy Langevin appealed a superior court order denying their motion for summary judgment and granting summary judgment to defendant, Travco Insurance Company (Travco). The trial court ruled that plaintiffs were not entitled to payment from Travco under their medical payments coverage to pay a lien asserted by the plaintiffs’ health insurer because such payment would constitute a “duplicate payment” contrary to the language of both RSA 264:16, IV (2014) and plaintiffs’ automobile insurance policy with Travco. The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed and remanded. "Although our interpretation does not allow the plaintiffs to retain the benefit of payment from both a health insurer and an automobile insurer for the same medical expense, we recognize that it does leave open the possibility that the plaintiffs will receive a double benefit in a different sense — they may receive and retain the benefit of medical payments coverage, and a recovery from the third-party tortfeasor. This type of double benefit is not prohibited by RSA 264:16, IV." The Court found the plain language of RSA 264:16, IV prohibited duplicate payments for the same medical expense from only two sources: “medical payments coverage and a health insurance policy.” It does not address payments, duplicate or otherwise, from a tortfeasor or a tortfeasor’s liability insurer. Because the statute expressly prohibited “duplicate payment” only from medical payments coverage and a health insurance policy, with no reference to payments from the tortfeasor or the tortfeasor’s liability policy, the Court construed the prohibition on “duplicate payment” as applying only to medical payments from health insurers and automobile insurers. View "Langevin v. Travco Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Homeowner-plaintiffs Michelle and Robert Russell appealed a superior court order denying their summary judgment motion and granting that of insurer-defendant NGM Insurance Company. On appeal, the homeowners argued the trial court erred when it determined that their homeowners’ insurance policy provided no coverage for the additional living expenses they incurred when they were unable to live in their home because of mold contamination. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Russell NGM Insurance Co." on Justia Law