Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court
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Plaintiff-appellant John Coates brought an action for breach of contract and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing against defendant-appellee Progressive Direct Insurance Company. Plaintiff was injured after a motorcycle collision; he was insured by Progressive under a motorcycle policy, an auto policy, and a policy providing UM coverage. Coates moved for partial summary judgment regarding his entitlement to uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits. Progressive moved for summary judgment regarding Coates' bad faith claim. Coates sought more time to conduct discovery to address Progressive's counterclaim on bad faith. The trial court granted Coates' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, allowing his UM claim against Progressive. The trial court also granted Progressive's Motion for Summary Judgment, denying Coates' claim for breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing. The trial court denied Coates' Motion for Additional Time to Respond. After review of the parties’ arguments on appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment on Coates' UM claim. The Court reversed, however, the decisions granting Progressive's Motion for Summary Judgment and denying Coates additional time to respond to that motion. View "Coates v. Progressive Direct Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Ikia Pope and Brandi Powell were in a motor vehicle collision. Pope left the scene of the collision. Powell alleged Pope drove a vehicle owned by third parties who gave permission for Pope to drive the vehicle. Progressive Direct Insurance Company insured the vehicle driven by Pope. Powell made bodily injury and property damage claims with Progressive Direct Insurance Company (insurer). Powell asserted she was entitled to treble property damages. Progressive sought a declaratory judgment for the purpose of adjudicating whether its insurance policy excluded treble damages pursuant to 47 O.S.2011, section 10-103. Progressive filed a motion for summary judgment, and the court concluded the treble damages provided by 47 O.S. 2011, section 10-103 were punitive in nature, and excluded by a clause excluding punitive damages. Powell appealed the subsequent consent judgment which was based, in part, upon the trial court's adjudication of the treble damages issue. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal sua sponte, concurring with the district court that the statutory treble damages in 47 O.S.2011, section 10-103 were punitive in nature, and punitive damages were expressly excluded by the policy. View "Progressive Direct Ins. Co. v. Pope" on Justia Law

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National American Insurance Company ("NAICO") brought suit against New Dominion, LLC, seeking a declaratory judgment that four consecutive commercial general liability policies it issued to New Dominion did not provide coverage for bodily injury and property damage claims asserted in a number of separate lawsuits ("the Earthquake Lawsuits"). These claims allegedly arose out of seismic activity caused by New Dominion's oil and gas operations. New Dominion filed a counterclaim alleging breach of contract, seeking defense and indemnity, and asserting equitable claims for estoppel and reformation. The trial court bifurcated the issues pleaded, conducted separate bench trials for the contract interpretation questions and the equitable claims. Following the first bench trial, the court issued a declaratory judgment holding that the Total Pollution Exclusions and the Subsidence and Earth Movement Exclusions in the commercial general liability policies clearly and unambiguously precluded coverage for the claims asserted in the Earthquake Lawsuits. Following the second trial, the court estopped NAICO from denying claims for bodily injury during one of the four policy periods but denied all other equitable claims. Both parties appealed, raising "a litany" of issues with the trial court's orders. The Oklahoma Supreme Court joined the cases and held: (1) the Total Pollution Exclusions did not clearly and unambiguously preclude coverage; (2) the Subsidence and Earth Movement Exclusions clearly and unambiguously precluded coverage; and (3) there was no basis for New Dominion's estoppel or reformation claims. View "National American Ins. Co. v. New Dominion" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit certified a question of law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on whether Progressive Northern Insurance Company's Underinsured Motorist (UM) Exclusion--which operated to deny uninsured motorist coverage to insureds who recover at least the statutorily mandated minimum in the form of liability coverage--contravened Oklahoma's Uninsured Motorist Statute, codified at 36 O.S. section 3636. The Supreme Court responded "yes:" Because of the sweeping nature of the UM Exclusion contained in the insurance policy at issue, Progressive found a way to entirely avoid providing the promised coverage. "[A]n insurer in Oklahoma cannot deprive its policyholder of uninsured-motorist coverage for which a premium has been paid through an exclusion that effectively erases its policyholder's choice to purchase that coverage in the first place. We conclude that Progressive's UM Exclusion contravenes section 3636 and is therefore void as against public policy." View "Lane v. Progressive Northern Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit certified two questions of law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Plaintiff-appellant George Morgan was driving drunk and hit Jesse Atkins with his truck at more than 40 miles per hour. Atkins was severely injured, and his resulting medical bills totaled more than $2 million. Defendant-appellee State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company provided liability insurance to Morgan at the time of the accident under a policy with a $100,000 limit. State Farm negotiated and executed a settlement with Atkins whereby State Farm paid its policy limit to Atkins and Atkins released his claims against Morgan. During the same timeframe, Atkins pursued a workers' compensation claim because he had been traveling for work when he was injured. The workers' compensation court issued a preliminary order for compensation, and the workers' compensation insurer began making payments to Atkins. The workers' compensation insurer's subrogee, New York Marine and General Insurance Company (NYM), sued Morgan in Oklahoma state court in June 2011 for reimbursement of the amounts paid to Atkins. Morgan retained personal counsel to represent him in the action. State Farm also provided counsel to Morgan and mounted a vigorous defense. A jury would later return a verdict in favor of NYM in the amount of $844,865.89, finding that State Farm knew about NYM's potential claim but failed to apprise NYM of its pending settlement with Atkins. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied certiorari. Morgan then filed suit against State Farm alleging State Farm's failure to secure NYM's release as part of its settlement with Atkins amounted to: (1) breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing; and (2) breach of contract. The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma found that Morgan's claims accrued in 2010, when State Farm negotiated the original settlement with Atkins and, therefore, concluded the applicable two and five year statutes of limitations for the tort and contract claims, respectively, barred Morgan's suit. Morgan appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit asked: (1) where a plaintiff is injured by entry of an adverse judgment that remains unstayed, is the injury sufficiently certain to support accrual of a tort cause of action based on that injury under 12 O.S. 95 before all appeals of the adverse judgment are exhausted?; and (2) does an action for breach of an insurance contract accrue at the moment of breach where a plaintiff is not injured until a later date? The Oklahoma Court answered the first question with a "no:" the claim accrues when the appeal is finally determined in the underlying case. The Court answered the second question with a "yes:" an action for breach of contract accrues when the contract is breached, not when damages result; the limitations period may be tolled if the defendant fraudulently concealed the cause of action. View "Morgan v. State Farm mutual Automobile Insur. Co." on Justia Law

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Tokiko Johnson's real property was damaged in a storm and she filed a claim with her insurance company. Johnson also executed an assignment of her insurance claim for the purpose of repairing the property with the execution in favor of Triple Diamond Construction LLC (the construction company). An appraiser retained by the construction company determined storm damage to the property in the amount of $36,346.06. The insurer determined the amount of damage due to the storm was $21,725.36. When sued, the insurer argued the insured property owner was required to obtain written consent from the insurer prior to making the assignment. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined an insured's post-loss assignment of a property insurance claim was an assignment of a chose in action and not an assignment of the insured's policy. Therefore, the insured's assignment was not prohibited by either the insurance policy or 36 O.S. section 3624. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. The insurer's motion to dismiss the appeal was thus denied. View "Johnson v. CSAA General Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In January 2020, summary judgment was entered in favor of defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (State Farm) against its insured, plaintiff Eric Thurston. In 2012, Thurston first obtained automobile liability insurance through State Farm. On June 9, 2016, Thurston was injured in an automobile accident. At that time, Thurston had three separate, six-month term, insurance policies with State Farm, with separate UM coverage on each, for which Thurston paid three separate premiums. The accident vehicle had $25,000 in UM coverage and the other two vehicles each had $50,000 in UM coverage. After determining that Thurston's medical expenses from the accident exceeded the at-fault driver's policy limits, State Farm initially paid Thurston $25,000 in UM benefits under the policy for the vehicle involved in the accident. State Farm eventually paid Thurston another $25,000 under a second policy, for a total of $50,000 in paid UM benefits. While Thurston's injuries exceeded that amount, State Farm refused further payment. Thurston brought claims against State Farm, Janis Yearout (Agent), and Yearout Insurance Agency (Agency) for fraud, breach of contract, bad faith, and failure to procure appropriate coverage. In April 2019, Thurston filed his third amended petition arguing, in part, that State Farm expressly provided for stacking when it continued to charge and accept full premiums on multiple policies without advising that the policies no longer stacked. In support, Thurston submitted his deposition testimony that he did not recall receiving notice of changes in policy language after the 2014 statutory amendment. Thurston alleged that his claims were also supported by State Farm's internal claim documents, which described the policy for the accident vehicle as "stacking" with another. The question before the Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether State Farm expressly provided for stacking of uninsured motorist policies, pursuant to 36 O.S. Supp. 2014, section 3636(B), by charging and accepting separate premiums for uninsured motorist coverage on separate policies. The Supreme Court found State Farm's charging separate UM premiums for vehicles on separate policies did not fall within section 3636's exception of expressly providing for stacking of UM coverage. Because State Farm did not take action to expressly provide for stacking of UM coverage, they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The district court's order granting summary judgment was affirmed. View "Thurston v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to address first impression questions of: (1) whether a home warranty plan met the definition of an insurance contract; (2) and if it was insurance, whether a forced arbitration clause in such a contract was unenforceable under the Oklahoma Uniform Arbitration Act; (3) whether 12 O.S. 2011 section 1855 of the Oklahoma Uniform Arbitration Act was a state law enacted for the purpose of regulating insurance under the McCarran-Ferguson Act; and (4) whether pursuant to the McCarran-Ferguson Act, did section 1855 preempted the application of the Federal Arbitration Act. The Supreme Court answered all questions in the affirmative. View "Sparks v. Old Republic Home Protection Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals certified two questions of law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Billy Hamilton, a small-business owner in Council Hill, Oklahoma, filed a claim in December 2015 with his insurer, Northfield Insurance Company, seeking coverage for his building's leaking roof. Northfield twice denied his claim: once in February 2016, and again in April 2016. Hamilton filed suit against Northfield in November of that year, alleging bad-faith denial of his insurance claim and breach by Northfield of the insurance contract. Hamilton rejected a proposed settlement, and the matter went to trial. A jury awarded him $10,652, the maximum amount of damages the judge instructed the jury it could award. Hamilton then sought attorney fees and statutory interest under 36 O.S. section 3629(B). Northfield responded that Hamilton was not the prevailing party under the statute, given that he had recovered less than its settlement offer to him. The federal district court agreed with Northfield, and Hamilton appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Initially, a panel of that court affirmed the district court's determination that Hamilton was not the prevailing party for purposes of awarding attorney fees under section 3629(B). Following a petition for en banc rehearing by Hamilton and additional briefing by amicus curiae, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals granted panel rehearing sua sponte, vacated its opinion as to the issues raised in Hamilton's appeal, and certified the two questions to the Oklahoma Court. The questions were: (1) in determining which is the prevailing party under 36 O.S. 3629(B), should a court consider settlement offers made by the insurer outside the sixty- (formerly, ninety-) day window for making such offers pursuant to the statute?; and (2) should a court add to the verdict costs and attorney fees incurred up until the offer of settlement for comparison with a settlement offer that contemplated costs and fees? The Oklahoma Court answered both questions "no:" (1) a court may consider only those timely offers of settlement of the underlying insurance claim--and not offers to resolve an ensuing lawsuit that results from the insurer's denial of the same; and (2) this is strictly limited to the specific context of determining prevailing-party status under section 3629(B) alone. The Oklahoma Court expressed no opinion on a trial court's evaluation of the form of settlement offer described in the certifying court's second question when made outside the section 3629(B) setting. View "Hamilton v. Northfield Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Oklahoma Schools Risk Management Trust (OSRMT) brought a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration it was not liable for losses sustained by McAlester Public Schools resulting from a ruptured water pipe in one of its schools. McAlester Public Schools answered, alleged breach of contract by plaintiff, and sought indemnification for its losses. A trial court granted summary judgment for Oklahoma Schools Risk Management Trust on its request for declaratory relief and against McAlester Public Schools on its indemnity claim. McAlester Public Schools appealed the judgment. The Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed with McAlester Schools that OSMRT failed to show a policy-based exclusion to coverage, reversed summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Okla. Schools Risk Management Trust v. McAlester Pub. Schools" on Justia Law