Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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In October 2020, Larry Knight's residence was damaged by Hurricane Zeta. He filed an insurance claim with Foremost Insurance Company, which was denied. Knight then sued Foremost, claiming that the company had insured his residence. Over the course of the litigation, Knight amended his complaint six times, eventually adding claims related to a rental property that Foremost admitted to insuring. He also added Karen Bradford and Bradford Agency, LLC as defendants. Foremost moved to strike Knight's latest amended complaint, while Bradford and the Agency moved to quash service of process and to be dismissed from the case, arguing that service on them had been insufficient. The trial court denied these motions.Foremost, Bradford, and the Agency petitioned the Supreme Court of Alabama for a writ of mandamus, arguing that they were entitled to relief. The court agreed, finding that Knight had failed to demonstrate good cause for amending his complaint for a sixth time and that allowing the amendment would result in actual prejudice to Foremost and unduly delay the trial. The court also found that service on Bradford and the Agency was ineffective, as Knight had failed to comply with the service requirements in Rule 4 of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure. The court therefore granted the petition and issued the writ, directing the trial court to strike Knight's sixth amended complaint and to grant Bradford and the Agency's motions to quash service of process and to dismiss them from the lawsuit. View "Ex parte Foremost Insurance Company v. Foremost Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a car accident that occurred on February 6, 2016, involving Melissa A. Keller and her daughter, Caroline Keller, who were insured by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. The Kellers were hit by Xavier Blanchard, who ran a red light. Xavier's vehicle was owned by his father, Harvey Blanchard, and was also insured by State Farm. The Kellers filed a complaint against the Blanchards on January 8, 2018, alleging negligence and wantonness. However, the complaint did not state any claim against State Farm. On January 26, 2023, the Kellers settled their claims with the Blanchards and subsequently filed an "Amended Complaint for Underinsured Motorist Coverage" against State Farm on January 27, 2023.State Farm moved to dismiss the new complaint, arguing that it was filed outside the six-year statute-of-limitations period applicable to contract-based claims. The insurer contended that the claim did not relate back to the original complaint as Keller knew or should have known that State Farm was her insurer. Keller, on the other hand, argued that her claim for underinsured-motorist coverage did not accrue until the date she settled with the Blanchards. The trial court denied State Farm's motion to dismiss on June 12, 2023, without making specific findings of fact or law.The Supreme Court of Alabama granted State Farm's petition for a writ of mandamus, directing the trial court to dismiss Keller's underinsured-motorist claim against it. The court held that the accrual date for a direct uninsured/underinsured-motorist claim against an insurer is the date of the accident. Since Keller did not assert her direct claim for underinsured-motorist benefits against State Farm until more than six years after the date of the accident, that claim was time-barred. View "Ex parte State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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In this case, an automobile repair technician, Donijah Virgo, was injured when his stalled vehicle was hit by a car driven by Heather Michelle Roberts while he was attempting to push it across a road. Virgo sued Roberts for negligence, but the Mobile Circuit Court granted Roberts a partial summary judgment, dismissing Virgo's counterclaim. The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed the lower court's decision.In October 2020, Virgo was diagnosing a mechanical problem in a Crown Victoria automobile. The car stalled on a road, and he moved it into a median left-turn lane. After waiting for about 10 minutes for traffic to clear, Virgo attempted to push the car across the road, during which Roberts's vehicle collided with it, resulting in major damage and serious injuries to Virgo.Roberts sued Virgo for negligence and wantonness and sought uninsured motorist benefits from GEICO Casualty Company. Virgo filed a counterclaim alleging negligence on Roberts's part. After settling the claim against GEICO, Roberts moved for a summary judgment on Virgo's counterclaim, which the circuit court granted.The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed the circuit court's decision. The court concluded that Virgo failed to present substantial evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding his counterclaim, and thus, the circuit court did not err in granting a summary judgment in favor of Roberts. View "Virgo v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Alabama dismissed an appeal by the Great American Insurance Company. The insurance company had appealed a lower court's decision denying its motion to invoke the appraisal procedure in a dispute with the Crystal Shores Owners Association, Inc. The dispute arose following damage to the Crystal Shores Condominium complex due to Hurricane Sally and a subsequent bathtub overflow in one of the units. The insurance company argued that the dispute over the amount of loss was subject to an appraisal procedure described in the insurance policy, which it contended was a form of arbitration. The Supreme Court of Alabama held that, regardless of whether federal law or Alabama law controlled the definition of "arbitration" in the Federal Arbitration Act, the appraisal clause in the insurance contract did not qualify as a clause calling for "arbitration". As such, the lower court's denial of Great American's motion did not constitute an order denying a motion to compel arbitration, and the Supreme Court of Alabama dismissed the appeal as one stemming from a nonfinal judgment. View "Great American Insurance Company v. Crystal Shores Owners Association, Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioners Insurance Express, LLC ("Insurance Express"), Wayne Taylor, and Julie Singley sought a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate an order staying the underlying action against defendants Lynne Ernest Insurance, LLC ("LEI"), Lynne Ernest, Chynna Ernest, and Deadra Stokley. According to the complaint, Lynne and Stokley were longtime employees of Insurance Express. It alleged that they, while still employed by Insurance Express, entered Insurance Express's office after business hours and, without authorization, made electronic copies of various business records related to Insurance Express's clients and insurance policies. Lynne and Stokley resigned soon after and began employment with LEI, which purportedly had been formed by Lynne and Chynna and was a direct competitor of Insurance Express. Lynne and Stokley, it is alleged, then induced some Insurance Express clients to transfer their policies to LEI. Insurance Express sought injunctive relief to, among other things, prevent defendants from communicating with past or current customers of Insurance Express and to require defendants to return any customer information taken by them. It further sought damages for breach of contract, conversion, intentional interference with business relations, breach of fiduciary duty, and civil conspiracy. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found petitioners established they had a clear legal right to the relief they sought. The Court granted their petition and directed the trial court to vacate its order granting a stay. View "Ex parte Insurance Express, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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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

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Douglas Ghee, as the personal representative of the estate of Billy Fleming, appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing Ghee's wrongful-death claim against USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas and Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas ("Blue Advantage"). The circuit court correctly dismissed the aspect of Ghee's claim that, on the face of the complaint, was based on an insurance-benefits decision by Blue Advantage. The Alabama Supreme Court found the circuit court erred, however, by dismissing the aspect of Ghee's claim that was based on Blue Advantage's alleged provision of medical advice, because it was not clear from the complaint that that aspect was based on an insurance-benefits decision. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in part and reversed it in part. View "Ghee v. USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas, et al." on Justia Law

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Progressive Direct Insurance Company ("Progressive") appealed a circuit court order granting a motion for a partial summary judgment filed by Madison Keen and joined by Robert Creller and Alfa Mutual Insurance Company ("Alfa"); the trial court certified its order as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. In September 2019, Keen was involved in a motor-vehicle accident. She sought compensation from Creller, who was the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident. The vehicle Creller was driving was owned by his parents and was insured by Alfa. The evidence suggested that Creller and his spouse were living with Creller's parents at the time of the accident. Alfa paid Keen the limits of the insurance policy, and Keen executed a settlement agreement and a release in favor of Creller and Alfa. In June 2021, Keen filed the lawsuit at issue here seeking underinsured-motorist benefits from two different policies, namely, a policy issued by Progressive covering the vehicle Keen was driving at the time of the accident and a policy issued by State Farm Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm") covering a second vehicle in Keen's household. Because Keen was driving the vehicle insured by Progressive at the time of the accident, her Progressive underinsured-motorist coverage was the primary insurance and the State Farm underinsured-motorist coverage was the secondary insurance. During the litigation, Creller was deposed and revealed the existence of an additional insurance policy covering his spouse's vehicle, which had been issued by Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate") and which identified Creller as a named insured. The discovery of the Allstate policy raised the possibility that Creller might have had additional liability insurance coverage that could have compensated Keen for her injuries. Based on the alleged existence of additional insurance benefits, she asserted that there had been a mutual mistake among the parties to the settlement agreement and the release. Keen eventually moved for partial summary judgment, arguing the Allstate policy did not provide coverage. For its part, Progressive opposed Keen's motion, because the availability of benefits under the Allstate policy might affect Progressive's interests with respect to Keen's underinsured- motorist claim. The trial court granted Keen's motion and certified its order as final pursuant to Rule 54(b). Progressive appealed. Because it appeared there was a question of fact based on the evidence before the trial court existed when it entered the partial summary judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed that judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Progressive Direct Ins. Co. v. Keen, et al." on Justia Law

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After a fire at James and Suzanne Skinner's house, their insurer sought a judgment declaring that it did not owe either of them coverage. The circuit court entered summary judgment for Suzanne while the claim against James remained pending. A year later, with the claim against James still pending, the circuit court certified the judgment in Suzanne's favor as final and thus immediately appealable under Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. Because the circuit court exceeded its discretion in doing so, the Alabama Supreme Court set aside the Rule 54(b) certification and dismissed this appeal. View "Alabama Insurance Underwriting Association v. Skinner" on Justia Law

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Ben E. Keith Company, Inc. ("BEK"), appealed a circuit court order entering summary judgment in favor of Lyndon Southern Insurance Company ("Lyndon") on Lyndon's complaint for a declaratory judgment. On December 14, 2018, Felicia Edwards and Robert Allen Marak were involved in a motor-vehicle accident in Dadeville. Felicia was driving a 2009 Toyota Camry automobile that was owned by Annette Edwards and insured by Lyndon. Marak was driving a tractor-trailer that was owned by BEK. As a result of the accident, BEK incurred damage to its tractor-trailer. BEK sued Felicia and Annette claiming negligence and wantonness against both Felicia and Annette and a claim of negligent entrustment against Annette. BEK later amended the complaint to add a negligent-maintenance claim against Annette. Lyndon filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment against Felicia, Annette, and BEK, asserting the policy it issued to Annette excluded coverage for "[a]ny operator of a vehicle who is not listed as a driver on the Policy Applications, Declarations, and/or added by Endorsement who is under the age of twenty-five and is either a Family Member or resides in the same household as the Named Insured" and for "[a]n operator of a vehicle who is an unlicensed driver or whose driving privileges have been terminated or suspended." BEK argued the trial court erroneously granted Lyndon's motion for a summary judgment because Lyndon did not produce substantial admissible evidence to establish that Felicia was a noncovered person under the policy that insured Annette's vehicle at the time of the accident. Specifically, it contended Lyndon did not produce substantial admissible evidence to establish that Felicia did not have a valid driver's license at the time of the accident or to establish Felicia's age and residence at the time of the accident. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concurred Lyndon did not produce substantial evidence to establish that Felicia did not have a valid driver's license at the time of the accident and did not produce substantial evidence to establish that Felicia was under the age of 25 and resided in Annette's household at the time of the accident. Therefore, Lyndon did not shift the burden of proof to BEK. Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting Lyndon's motion for a summary judgment. Judgment was therefore reversed. View "Ben E. Keith Company, Inc. v. Lyndon Southern Insurance Company" on Justia Law