Justia Insurance Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Franco v. Reinhardt
The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) reinstating the jury's verdict and judgment for Tiare Franco's family (the Francos) after granting Sabio Reinhardt's motion to set aside the jury verdict and judgment, holding that the ICA erred.The Francos brought a wrongful death lawsuit against Reinhardt for negligently crashing a truck and killing Tiare. National Interstate Insurance Company (NIIC), the truck's insurer, filed a declaratory judgment action claiming it had no duty to defend and indemnify Reinhardt under the policy. The circuit court granted summary judgment for NIIC, and the Francos successfully appealed. Before the ICA resolved the declaratory action appeal, the circuit court held a jury trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Francos. Counsel for Reinhardt moved to set aside the jury's verdict. The trial court granted the Francos' ensuing motion to disqualify counsel and Reinhardt's motion to set aside the jury verdict and judgment. The ICA reinstated the jury's verdict and judgment, holding that Reinhardt's counsel lacked authority to act as his lawyer. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment and affirmed the circuit court's orders, holding that the circuit court correctly denied the Francos' motion to disqualify counsel and did not abuse its discretion by granting Reinhardt's motion to set aside. View "Franco v. Reinhardt" on Justia Law
Galarza v. Direct Auto Insurance Co.
Guiracocha and his son, Cristopher, filed an uninsured motorist (UM) claim against Direct Auto, stemming from a hit-and-run incident where 14-year-old Cristopher was struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle. They asserted Fredy was the named insured under an automobile insurance policy issued by Direct Auto and that UM coverage applied to Cristopher based on his status as a “relative” under the policy. Direct Auto denied coverage because Cristopher was not an occupant of a covered vehicle at the time of the accident and sought a declaratory judgment. The circuit court granted Direct Auto summary judgment.The appellate court reversed, holding that a provision in an automobile insurance policy that limits UM coverage to insureds occupying an insured automobile violates the Illinois Insurance Code (215 ILCS 5/143a). The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. Section 143a states that an insurance policy cannot be “renewed, delivered, or issued for delivery” in Illinois unless it provides coverage to “any person” for injuries “arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle.” A bicyclist injured by an uninsured motorist vehicle is a “person” who suffered injuries arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of “a motor vehicle.” The injured person’s status as an occupant of a vehicle is irrelevant. View "Galarza v. Direct Auto Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Team Industrial Services v. Zurich American Insurance Company, et al.
Plaintiff Team Industrial Services, Inc. (Team) suffered a $222 million judgment against it in a wrongful-death lawsuit arising out of a steam-turbine failure in June 2018 at a Westar Energy, Inc. (Westar) power plant. Team sought liability coverage from Westar, Zurich American Insurance Company (Zurich), and two other insurance companies, arguing that it was, or should have been, provided protection by Westar’s Owner-Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP) through insurance policies issued by Zurich and the two other insurers. Team’s claims derived from the fact that its liability for the failure at the Westar power plant arose from work that had previously been performed by Furmanite America, Inc. (Furmanite), which had coverage under Westar’s OCIP. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants, and Team appealed. Not persuaded by Team's arguments for reversal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Team Industrial Services v. Zurich American Insurance Company, et al." on Justia Law
Westfield Insurance Co. v. Sistersville Tank Works, Inc.
The Supreme Court concluded that under the continuous-trigger theory, when an insurance claim is made by alleging a progressive injury caused by chemical exposure or other analogous toxic, injurious substance, damages that are caused, continuous, or progressively deteriorating throughout successive policy periods are covered by all the occurrence-based policies in effect during those periods.This case involved claims against a standardized commercial general liability (CGL) policy alleging that long-term exposure to chemicals caused a disease to develop over a number of years before being diagnosed. The exposure to the chemicals and the development of the disease, however, happened across numerous CGL policy periods. Insurer denied coverage under its CGL policies and filed a complaint for declaratory relief. The district court granted a judgment in favor of Insured, finding that Insurer owed Insured a duty to defend and indemnify under all of its policies. The Supreme Court answered a certified question that, under the continuous-trigger theory, when a claim is made alleging a progressive injury caused by chemical exposure or other analogous harm, every occurrence-based policy in effect from the initial exposure, through the latency and development period and up to the manifestation of the bodily illness, is triggered and must cover the claim. View "Westfield Insurance Co. v. Sistersville Tank Works, Inc." on Justia Law
Scott Fetzer Co. v. American Home Assurance Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals in this dispute arising out of environmental-cleanup and remediation work at two Superfund sites in Bronson, Michigan, holding that Restatement (Second) 193 does not govern the choice-of-law analysis for bad faith claims.Scott Fetzer Company filed this action asserting a breach of contract claim against certain insurance companies, including Travelers Casualty and Surety Company, alleging breaches of certain insurance contracts. Fetzer also asserted a tort claim against each company, arguing that they had acted in bad faith when handling his claims. As to Travelers, an administrative judge concluded that Ohio law applied to a discovery dispute concerning Scott Fetzer's bad faith claim. The court of appeals affirmed, determining that Ohio law governed the bad-faith discovery dispute because the cause of action was a tort. In affirming, the court applied the choice-of-law rules set forth in section 145 of the Restatement. Travelers appealed, arguing that section 193 governs the choice-of-law analysis for bad faith claims because they arise out of insurance contracts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly ruled that the choice-of-law analysis applicable to a bad-faith claim as provided by section 145. View "Scott Fetzer Co. v. American Home Assurance Co." on Justia Law
State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Wood
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm") appealed a judgment entered against it on a jury verdict in an automobile-accident case. Brian Wood ("Brian") was driving through an intersection in Auburn when his vehicle was T-boned by a vehicle being driven by Mark Stafford. Brian and his wife Jennifer sued Stafford, an uninsured motorist, alleging claims of negligence, wantonness, and loss of consortium. Because Stafford was uninsured, the Woods also sued State Farm, their automobile-insurance company, seeking uninsured-motorist benefits under their policy. The jury returned a verdict in the Woods' favor, awarding them $700,000 in compensatory damages, and the trial court entered a judgment on that verdict. The jury did not award any punitive damages. State Farm filed a postjudgment motion challenging the judgment on various grounds, including whether the wantonness claim should have gone to the jury. The postjudgment motion was denied by operation of law, and State Farm appealed. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded State Farm failed to establish the trial court erred by not setting aside its judgment entered on the jury's verdict, therefore the judgment was affirmed. View "State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Wood" on Justia Law
Hee Lowery, et al v. AmGuard Insurance Company
After Plaintiff sustained serious injuries from a hot-soup spill at Noodle College Park, an Atlanta-area restaurant, she and her spouse sued Shou & Shou, Inc., which owned and operated the restaurant. Shou & Shou tendered the defense to and sought coverage from AmGuard Insurance Company. But AmGuard denied coverage on the ground that the policy named “Noodle, Inc.”—an entity that did not exist—as insured. Shou & Shou settled the suit and assigned the Lowerys its rights under the policy. Plaintiffs, as assignees, then sued AmGuard for equitable reformation of the policy. The district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and later entered a final judgment. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that reformation of the policy was proper under Georgia law. The court explained that the district court correctly equitably reformed the 2016–17 policy to insure the true owner of the restaurant. The court explained that AmGuard insists that it could not have shared Shou & Shou’s mistake because it did not know the “identity” of the intended insured and could not have intended to “name” Shou & Shou as an insured. But Georgia law does not demand that degree of specificity in defining a mutual mistake. Further, the court held that Plaintiffs claim of breach of contract merges with reformation of the policy. View "Hee Lowery, et al v. AmGuard Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Law Office of Rogelio Solis v. Curtis
After a fatal truck accident claimed the lives of members of two families, the victims' families filed a personal injury action against the trucking company. The trucking company's insurer ultimately transferred $1 million to the law firm representing one of the families. The insurer then notified the other family that the policy limits had been exhausted. That same day, the insurer submitted two checks: one to the victim's family and one to the law firm.The family that was not party to the settlement filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against the trucking company. The trustee brought an adversary proceeding against the other victim's family and their law firm, seeking to avoid and recover the transfer of the policy proceeds pursuant to 11 U.S.C. Secs. 547 and 550 of the Bankruptcy Code. The bankruptcy court denied the law firm's motion to dismiss.On appeal, the family that settled and the law firm argued that the district court erred in determining that the trucking company held an equitable property interest in the policy proceeds. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding that these facts fit the "limited circumstances" under which the policy proceed are considered the property of the estate. View "Law Office of Rogelio Solis v. Curtis" on Justia Law
SXSW v. Federal Insurance
Plaintiff planned on hosting a music festival in Austin, Texas. However, Austin canceled the event due to concerns related to COVID-19. In turn, ticket holders who were refused a refund sued, resulting in a judgment against PLaintiff of over $1 million. Plaintiff sued its insurer for failure to defend against the class action. The district court denied Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and granted the insurer's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff appealed.On appeal. the parties agreed that the district court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)(1) and Plaintiff claimed the Fifth Circuit had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1291.Exercising its independent judgment, the Fifth Circuit could not find proper allegations or evidence of Plaintiff's citizenship, giving the parties an opportunity to respond. However, the Fifth Circuit found the proffered evidence of Plaintiff's citizenship insufficient, remanding the case for the limited purpose of determining whether jurisdiction exists. View "SXSW v. Federal Insurance" on Justia Law
Van Winkle v. Rogers
The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded in part and affirmed in part the district court’s ruling in Plaintiff’s suit against the truck driver, trucking company, and insurance company. The court found that there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether Defendants acted in bad faith in destroying the tire. Plaintiff was driving on an interstate highway in Louisiana when his car was struck by part of a tire that came from the tractor-trailer being driven directly in front of him. The resulting crash caused serious injuries to Plaintiff and damage to his vehicle. The tractor-trailer was owned by Defendant New Prime, Inc. d/b/a Prime, Inc. and operated by its employee, Defendant James Arthur Rogers. The tread of the failed tire — a refurbished, retread tire manufactured by Prime’s own EcoTire facility — separated from the casing or tire core before it hit Plaintiff’s vehicle. Plaintiff filed suit against a truck driver, trucking company, and insurance company. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. On appeal, Plaintiff contends the district court erred in ruling on several motions. The central question is whether the district court was correct to hold that there were no genuine issues of material fact. The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded in part and affirmed in part. The court explained that Plaintiff should be permitted a jury instruction that if jurors find bad faith, they may infer that the destroyed evidence would have been adverse to Prime’s defense in this suit. The court wrote that Prime destroyed the most crucial piece of evidence just weeks after learning that its tire may have caused a car accident, and Prime cannot explain why it transported the tire to its Salt Lake facility or what happened to the tire following the accident. These circumstances create a fact question on bad faith, necessitating a jury determination. View "Van Winkle v. Rogers" on Justia Law