Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Products Liability
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The issue this appeal presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on an exclusionary clause in a commercial general liability insurance policy issued by Admiral Insurance Company (Admiral) to Richfield Window Coverings, LLC (Richfield). Richfield sold window coverage products, including blinds, to national retailers like Home Depot and provided retailers with machines to cut the blinds to meet the specifications of the retailers’ customers. Colleen Lorito, an employee of a Home Depot located in Nassau County, was injured while operating the blind cutting machine. She and her husband filed a civil action against Richfield, asserting claims for product liability, breach of warranty, and loss of spousal services. Admiral denied any obligation to defend or indemnify, asserting the claims were not covered under the policy based on the Designated New York Counties Exclusion of the insurance policy. Richfield filed a declaratory judgment action seeking to compel Admiral to defend it in the Lorito case and, if necessary, indemnify it against any monetary damages awarded to the plaintiffs. The Law Division granted summary judgment in favor of Admiral. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that “Richfield’s limited activities and operations have no causal relationship to the causes of action or allegations.” The Supreme Court found that the policy’s broad and unambiguous language made clear that a causal relationship was not required in order for the exclusionary clause to apply; rather, any claim “in any way connected with” the insured’s operations or activities in a county identified in the exclusionary clause was not covered under the policy. Richfield’s operations in an excluded county were alleged to be connected with the injuries for which recovery was sought, so the exclusion applied. Admiral had no duty to defend a claim that it is not contractually obligated to indemnify. View "Norman International, Inc. v. Admiral Insurance Company " on Justia Law

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After a tractor manufactured by CNH caught fire, Floyd filed suit against CNH in federal court under a theory of product liability, claiming that its insureds owned the tractor and other property on the tractor, both of which were damaged in the fire, and that Floyd was subrogated to its insureds' claims against CNH because Floyd had paid its insureds' claim for the damage. The district court dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332.The Eighth Circuit affirmed and concluded that section 1332's amount-in-controversy requirement was not satisfied in this case. The court concluded that the Iowa Supreme Court would hold that the economic-loss doctrine permits recovery only for the other property and not for the product itself. Accordingly, the Iowa Supreme Court would bar recovery in tort for damage that a defective product causes to itself, even if the plaintiff also seeks recovery for damage to other property. Here, Floyd's recovery is limited as a matter of law to the alleged $22,787.81 in damage to property other than the tractor. The court denied the motion to certify a question of law to the Iowa Supreme Court and upheld the district court's dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Floyd County Mutual Insurance Ass'n v. CNH Industrial America LLC" on Justia Law

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Daimler-Benz AG acquired Freightliner Corporation (Freightliner) from Consolidated Freightways (now Con-Way) in 1981. As part of the transaction, it liquidated Freightliner’s assets and liabilities into a subsidiary, Daimler Trucks North America LLC (Daimler). Between 1952 and 1982, Freightliner and then Daimler had engaged in business activities, primarily the manufacture of trucks, that subsequently led to several environmental remediation proceedings, including claims related to the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup, and to some 1,500 asbestos personal injury claims. Plaintiffs Allianz Global Risk US Insurance and Allianz Underwriters Insurance Company (Allianz) insured Freightliner in 1981 and Daimler from 1981 to 1986 through a general commercial liability insurance policy. Daimler also purchased from Allianz another policy to provide coverage for future claims that might be made against Freightliner based on its past operations that were “incurred but not yet reported.” By the time it filed the operative complaint in this action in 2014, Allianz had spent more than $24 million defending and paying environmental and asbestos claims against Daimler and the now-dissolved Freightliner arising from Freightliner’s business operations between 1952 and 1982. In this litigation, Allianz sought contribution for the payments it has made and will make in the future based on those environmental and asbestos claims from insurance companies that insured Freightliner -- either directly or through its parent, Con-Way -- from 1976 to 1982. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' holding that Daimler did not assume the contingent liabilities of Freightliner (including the liabilities at issue here) and affirmed the jury verdict on that issue. On Allianz's appeal, the Supreme Court agreed that the trial court erred in submitting to the jury the question of whether, because of side agreements between Con-Way/Freightliner and the insurers, those insurers had a "duty to defend or indemnify Freightliner" -- that question was to be decided by the trial court as a matter of law based on the relevant policies. As to the "London pollution exclusion", the Supreme Court agreed with Allianz that it was error for the trial court not to provide a legal interpretation of a key provision in the policy as part of the jury instructions. The Court also concluded that the jury instructions regarding the London pollution exclusion should be similar to those regarding the Domestic exclusion. The decision of the Court of Appeals was reversed. The limited judgments of the trial court were affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Allianz Global Risks v. ACE Property & Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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An electronic gaming device designed and supplied by Planet Bingo, LLC caused a fire in the United Kingdom. Several third parties made demands that Planet Bingo pay their damages resulting from the fire. However, Planet Bingo’s liability insurer, the Burlington Insurance Company (Burlington), denied coverage. Planet Bingo filed this action for breach of contract and bad faith against Burlington. In a previous appeal, the Court of Appeal held that Burlington’s policy did afford coverage, though only if one of the third-party claimants filed suit against Planet Bingo in the United States or Canada. Such a suit was then filed. Burlington accepted the defense and managed to settle the suit for its policy limits. In this action, the trial court granted summary judgment for Burlington, ruling that Burlington had provided all of the benefits due under the policy. Planet Bingo appealed, contending that Burlington conducted an inadequate investigation, and that Burlington wrongfully failed to settle the third-party claims, instead, denying coverage in the hope that the claimants would sue Planet Bingo in the United Kingdom, which would have let Burlington off the coverage hook. Planet Bingo claimed (and Burlington did not dispute) that it lost profits because the fire claims remained pending and unsettled. The Court of Appeal held Planet Bingo made out a prima facie case that Burlington was liable for failure to settle. Even though none of the claimants made a formal offer to settle within the policy limits, one subrogee sent a subrogation demand letter; according to Planet Bingo’s expert witness, in light of the standards of the insurance industry, this represented an opportunity to settle within the policy limits. The Court therefore did not address Planet Bingo’s claim that Burlington conducted an inadequate investigation. The Court also did not decide whether lost profits were recoverable as damages, because this issue was not raised below. View "Planet Bingo LLC v. The Burlington Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In 2015, Elizabeth Byars was visiting a residence in Huntsville, Alabama owned by Hannelore Sims ("Hannelore") when she was attacked by a pit bull kept by Hannelore's adult grandson Cody Sims ("Cody"), who also resided at the property. The pit bull was allegedly owned by Belinda Jones (whose relationship to Cody and Hannelore was not made clear from the trial court record). Byars sued Hannelore, Cody, and Jones seeking to recover damages for her injuries. Cody was served with notice of Byars's lawsuit, but he failed to answer the complaint. The trial court entered a default judgment against Cody, awarding Byars $200,000. Byars thereafter amended her complaint to assert a claim against State Farm. Specifically, Byars alleged that State Farm had issued a homeowner's insurance policy insuring Hannelore's property and that, because a judgment had been entered against Cody, Byars could assert a claim against State Farm under the direct-action statute. State Farm moved to dismiss, arguing that the direct- action statute did not allow Byars to simply amend her complaint to add State Farm as a defendant. Rather, State Farm argued, Byars was required to initiate a separate action to pursue any claim she might have against State Farm. State Farm petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief when the trial court denied its motion. In denying State Farm's petition, the Supreme Court determined State Farm failed to meet its burden or establishing that it had no adequate remedy aside from a writ of mandamus. View "Ex parte State Farm Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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This dispute arose from a 2013 oil well blowout on the HERCULES 265 drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. After the rig's charterer filed suit raising products liability claims against a refurbisher of the rig's blowout-prevention components, counterclaims and third-party claims ensued. The district court subsequently granted a series of summary judgments, based both on contractual indemnity and also on the merits of the liability claims.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to Hercules' duty to defend, hold harmless, and indemnify Axon; reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to Walter's duty to directly indemnify Axon; reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to Walter's duty to indemnify Hercules for Axon's claims; vacated the district court's order excluding Bellemare's testimony; vacated the district court's orders excluding the expert reports of Sones, Bourgoyne, Williams, Rusnak, Bellemare, and Adair, as well as the orders excluding the affidavits of Sones and Bourgoyne; reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to the causation and "unreasonably dangerous condition" prongs of the Louisiana Products Liability Act; vacated the district court's final judgment and fee orders; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's v. Axon Pressure Products Inc." on Justia Law

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Timothy Hinton died from injuries sustained in a fall from a tree stand. At the time of his fall, Timothy was wearing a fall-arrest system which included a full-body harness, tether and tree strap. Timothy had purchased the tree stand and fall-arrest system from The Sportsman’s Guide, Inc. (“TSG”), in 2009. C&S Global Imports, Inc. (“C&S”) had manufactured the items and marketed them to TSG. Pekin Insurance Company insured C&S at the time of Timothy’s injury and death. After filing their third amended complaint, the Hintons filed a motion for partial summary judgment against Pekin, claiming Pekin waived its defenses to coverage or should have been estopped from asserting any coverage defenses. Among other arguments, the Hintons maintained that Pekin failed to defend C&S, did not file a declaratory-judgment action and allowed a default judgment against C&S. The circuit court denied the Hintons’ motion. Pekin then moved for summary judgment, arguing the insurance policy excluded coverage for tree or deer stands and related equipment. The circuit court granted Pekin’s motion and entered a final judgment dismissing Pekin from the suit. The Hintons appealed both of the circuit court’s rulings. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the order denying partial summary judgment to the Hintons, the order granting summary judgment to Pekin and the final judgment dismissing Pekin from the suit. View "Hinton v. Pekin Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved questions about the insurance coverage available to defendant Honeywell International, Inc. (Honeywell) for thousands of bodily-injury claims premised on exposure to brake and clutch pads (friction products) containing asbestos. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification to address two issues: (1) whether the law of New Jersey or Michigan (the headquarters location of Honeywell’s predecessor when the disputed excess insurance policies were issued) should control in the allocation of insurance liability among insurers for nationwide products-liability claims; and (2) whether it was error not to require the policyholder, Honeywell, to contribute in the allocation of insurance liability based on the time after which the relevant coverage became unavailable in the marketplace (that is, since 1987). The Supreme Court determined New Jersey law on the allocation of liability among insurers applied in this matter, and the Court set forth the pertinent choice-of-law principles to resolve this dispute over insurance coverage for numerous products-liability claims. Concerning the second question, on these facts, the Court also affirmed the determination to follow the unavailability exception to the continuous-trigger method of allocation set forth in Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. United Ins. Co., 138 N.J. 437 (1994). View "Continental Insurance Company v. Honeywell International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Claims brought against the manufacturer of a component part of an improvement to real property fell under an exception to the ten-year statute of repose because the improvement was “machinery installed upon real property.” See Minn. Stat. 541.051.Appellant manufactured the motor in a home’s heat-recovery ventilator. Sixteen years after the ventilator was installed, a fire started in the ventilator, causing property damage to the home. Respondent, the insurer of the homeowners, brought this subrogation action against Appellant. The district court granted summary judgment for Appellant, concluding that the ten-year statute of response for improvements to real property barred every claim except the claim alleging a post-sale duty to warn, which claim it dismissed upon summary judgment. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part, holding (1) under the plain language of section 541.051, the ventilator containing Appellant’s motor was “machinery installed upon real property,” and therefore, the court of appeals properly reinstated Respondent’s breach of warranty, negligence, and product liability claims; and (2) Appellant did not have a duty to warn consumers of its product’s alleged defect after the time of sale. View "Great Northern Insurance Co. v. Honeywell International, Inc." on Justia Law

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To seek redress for an opioid epidemic, characterized by the Court of Appeal as having placed a financial strain on state and local governments dealing with the epidemic’s health and safety consequences, two California counties sued (the California Action) various pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, including the appellants in this matter, Actavis, Inc., Actavis LLC, Actavis Pharma, Inc., Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Watson Laboratories, Inc., and Watson Pharma, Inc. (collectively, “Watson”). The California Action alleged Watson engaged in a “common, sophisticated, and highly deceptive marketing campaign” designed to expand the market and increase sales of opioid products by promoting them for treating long-term chronic, nonacute, and noncancer pain - a purpose for which Watson allegedly knew its opioid products were not suited. The City of Chicago brought a lawsuit in Illinois (the Chicago Action) making essentially the same allegations. The issue presented by this appeal was whether there was insurance coverage for Watson based on the allegations made in the California Action and the Chicago Action. Specifically, the issue was whether the Travelers Property Casualty Company of America (Travelers Insurance) and St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company (St. Paul) owe Watson a duty to defend those lawsuits pursuant to commercial general liability (CGL) insurance policies issued to Watson. Travelers denied Watson’s demand for a defense and brought this lawsuit to obtain a declaration that Travelers had no duty to defend or indemnify. The trial court, following a bench trial based on stipulated facts, found that Travelers had no duty to defend because the injuries alleged were not the result of an accident within the meaning of the insurance policies and the claims alleged fell within a policy exclusion for the insured’s products and for warranties and representations made about those products. The California Court of Appeal concluded Travelers had no duty to defend Watson under the policies and affirmed. View "The Traveler's Property Casualty Company of America v. Actavis, Inc." on Justia Law