Justia Insurance Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in North Carolina Supreme Court
Radiator Specialty Co. v. Arrowood Indemnity Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the court of appeals' decision affirming in part and dismissing in part the judgment of the trial court determining that Insurers were obligated to defend and indemnify Radiator Specialty Company (RSC) under its policies by reimbursing $1.8 million of RSC's past costs, holding that the court erred in part.RSC sought compensation from the three insurers (Insurers) remaining in this action for liabilities it incurred as a result of litigation occasioned by bodily injury caused by repeated exposure to benzene, which RSC manufactured. At issue was which insurers were obligated to pay which costs arising from RSC's benzene liabilities pursuant to the terms of the Insurers' liability insurance policies. The Supreme Court held that the trial court (1) correctly applied an exposure-based approach in determining at what point Insurers' coverage was triggered; (2) properly applied pro rata allocation based on the policies; and (3) in finding that horizontal exhaustion - rather than vertical exhaustion - applied to one insurer's duty to defend. View "Radiator Specialty Co. v. Arrowood Indemnity Co." on Justia Law
N.C. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. v. Dana
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming an order of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of Insureds and against Insurer in reliance upon its prior decision in N.C. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. v. Gurley, 139 N.C. App. 178 (2000), holding that the lower courts erred.Matthew Bronson, who was intoxicated, collided with a vehicle owned by Pamela Dana, resulting in serious injuries to Pamela and William Dana, who was riding in the passenger seat. Pamela died from her injuries. At the time of the accident, Pamela was insured under a policy of automobile liability insurance issued by Insurer. William, individually and as administrator of Pamela's estate, claimed to be entitled to an additional $74,750 in underinsured motorist coverage over the amount that Insurer had already tendered to them. Insurer filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the amount of underinsured motorist coverage it was required to provide to the Danas. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the Danas, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the application of Gurley in this case was error. View "N.C. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. v. Dana" on Justia Law
N.C. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. v. Lunsford
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the order and declaratory judgment of the superior court in favor of Defendant in this personal injury action, holding that, under the circumstances, Defendant was not entitled to collect underinsured benefits.Defendant was a North Carolina resident who sought to collect underinsured motor vehicle coverage benefits from Plaintiff, her North Carolina insurer, after she was injured while traveling in Alabama in a car owned and operated by a Tennessee resident and insured by a Tennessee insurer. Plaintiff denied the claim and initiated a declaratory judgment action seeking a ruling establishing that the UIM coverage of its politics did not apply to Defendant's injuries. The trial court concluded that Defendant was not entitled to coverage under the UIM provision of her insurance contract. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the amount of the stacked UIM coverage limits exceeded the sum of the applicable bodily injury coverage limits, the Tennessee driver's car was an "underinsured motor vehicle" as defined under North Carolina's Financial Responsibility Act for the purposes of giving effect to Defendant's contract with Plaintiff. View "N.C. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. v. Lunsford" on Justia Law
N.C. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co., Inc. v. Martin
The Supreme held that the trial court did not err in determining that Defendants were not afforded underinsured motorist and medical payments coverage under an insurance policy issued by Plaintiff, an insurance company, to a family member.Defendants argued that they were entitled to medical payments and underinsured motorist coverage under Plaintiff's policy because they were "residents" of the insured's "household." Plaintiff disputed coverage and filed a declaratory judgment action in superior court, arguing that Defendants were not residents of the insured's household at the time of the accident. The trial court entered summary judgment for Plaintiff, concluding as a matter of law that Defendants were not entitled to coverage under the policy. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals did not err in determining that Defendants are not entitled to coverage under the policy and that the trial court appropriately awarded summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff. View "N.C. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co., Inc. v. Martin" on Justia Law
Walker v. K&W Cafeterias
The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' decision affirming the North Carolina Industrial Commission's finding that the uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) proceeds that Plaintiff received on behalf of her husband's estate through the settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit were subject to Defendants' subrogation lien under N.C. Gen. Stat. 97-10.2, holding that the UIM proceeds recovered from the wrongful death lawsuit may not be used to satisfy Defendants' workers' compensation lien.The decedent, Plaintiff's husband and an employee of Employer, was involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident with a third party in South Carolina. The Commission ordered Defendants to pay workers' compensation benefits to Plaintiff. Plaintiff then filed a wrongful death case seeking damages from the third party driver. The parties reached a settlement agreement that included recovery in the form of UIM proceeds. The workers' compensation insurance carrier for Employer subsequently claimed a lien on the UIM proceeds that Plaintiff recovered from the wrongful death settlement. The Commission ordered the distribution of Plaintiff's entire recovery from the South Carolina wrongful death settlement, concluding that Defendants were entitled to subrogation under section 97-10.2. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendants may not satisfy their workers' compensation lien by collecting from Plaintiff's recovery of UIM proceeds in her South Carolina wrongful death settlement. View "Walker v. K&W Cafeterias" on Justia Law
Accardi v. Hartford Underwriters Insurance Co.
In this insurance dispute, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the business court finding that the policy was unambiguous and dismissing Plaintiff's claim for breach of contract, holding that the term actual cash value (ACV) is not susceptible to more than one meaning and unambiguously includes the depreciation of labor.The policy at issue in this case failed explicitly to provide that labor depreciation will be deducted when calculating the ACV of the damaged property. Plaintiff's home was insured by Defendant when the home was damaged by a storm. Defendant calculated the ACV by reducing the estimated cost of repair by depreciation of property and labor. Plaintiff brought this action seeking to represent a class of all North Carolina residents to whom Defendant paid ACV payments where the cost of labor was depreciated. The business court dismissed the action. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the insurance policy unambiguously allowed for depreciation of the costs of labor and materials. View "Accardi v. Hartford Underwriters Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Sykes v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of North Carolina
In this case concerning civil liability based on insurer conduct affecting chiropractic services, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court dismissing all claims in this case, relying on and incorporating its reasoning in a companion case, Sykes v. Health Network Solutions, Inc., __ S.E.2d __ (N.C. 2019)(Sykes I), in holding that the decision in Sykes I met the criteria for collateral estoppel.This case was one of two putative class actions alleging that defendant insurers contracted with Health Network Solutions, Inc. (HNS) to provide or restrict insured chiropractic services in violation of state insurance and antitrust laws. Plaintiffs chose to bring this action against insurers separately from their claims against against HNS and its individual owners in Sykes I, but both actions presented essentially the same claims and relied on the same theories. The trial court dismissed Plaintiffs' claims in this case. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that collateral estoppel barred Plaintiffs from litigating these matters given the Court's resolution of the issues in Sykes I. View "Sykes v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of North Carolina" on Justia Law
Hairston v. Harward
The Supreme Court remanded this case for further proceedings, holding that the trial court erred by crediting the amount of a payment made to Plaintiff under his own underinsured motorist coverage against the amount of the judgment that Plaintiff obtained against Defendant arising from a motor vehicle collision.Plaintiff filed a negligence complaint against Defendant. The jury returned a verdict finding Defendant to be negligence and awarding Plaintiff $263,000 in compensation for his personal injuries. Thereafter, Plaintiff’s insurer issued a check to Plaintiff in the amount of $145,000, representing the amount of underinsured motorist coverage to which Plaintiff was entitled. The trial court subsequently concluded as a matter of law that Defendant was entitled to credit for the $145,000 payment. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that payments received as the result of the purchase of underinsured motorist coverage should not be credited against the amount of the judgment entered against Defendant in this case. View "Hairston v. Harward" on Justia Law
N.C. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., Inc. v. Sadler
Gervis Sadler owned a house that he insured through a limited-peril policy issued by North Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company (Farm Bureau). Farm Bureau adjusters investigated the home on two separate occasions, but Sadler disagreed with the amount of loss and asked for a disinterested appraisal. In the disinterested appraisal, Farm Bureau's appraiser valued the loss at $31,561. The appraisal award calculated by Sadler's appraiser and the umpire valued the loss at $162,500. Farm Bureau filed a complaint for declaratory relief, alleging the appraisal award failed to itemize the damages so Farm Bureau could determine the covered losses. Sadler moved for partial summary judgment on his breach of contract counterclaim. The trial court granted Sadler's request for partial summary judgment. Farm Bureau appealed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court erred in granting partial summary judgment in favor of Sadler because genuine issues of material fact needed to be resolved before the loss covered by the policy could be determined.