Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

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The commercial general liability policy at issue in this case is internally inconsistent and therefore ambiguous, and therefore, the policy is interpreted in favor of the insured. An employer’s commercial general liability policy was amended by an endorsement that included a “Stop Gap - Employers Liability Coverage Endorsement - West Virginia” that expressly provided coverage for bodily injury to employees, as well as an exclusion for statutory deliberate intent claims. At issue was whether coverage existed for a statutory deliberate intent action under the circumstances of this case. Insurer brought this appeal from an order of the circuit court that granted partial summary judgment for Employer/Insured and Employees. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that ambiguous policy language must be construed in favor of Insured and that the Stop Gap endorsement operated to provide coverage for the deliberate intent claims of Employees against Employer/Insured, and the conflicting exclusion may not be enforced. View "First Mercury Insurance Co., Inc. v. Russell" on Justia Law

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In this dispute concerning a liability insurance policy, the Supreme Court granted relief in prohibition to State Auto Property Insurance Companies, holding that State Auto was entitled to a dismissal of CMD Plus, Inc.’s third-party complaint as a matter of law. When Plaintiffs filed an action against CMD, a residential construction company, seeking recovery for damages to their house and property, CMD filed a third-party complaint against State Auto, its insurer, alleging that State Auto delayed investigating Plaintiffs’ claim, settling Plaintiffs’ lawsuit, and indemnifying CMD. In this petition for a writ of prohibition, State Auto challenged the circuit court’s denial of its motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court held that relief in prohibition was warranted because the record showed that State Auto defended and indemnified CMD throughout the lawsuit as required by the commercial general liability policy, and the terms of the policy provided no coverage to CMD for damage to its own property. View "State ex rel. State Auto Property Insurance Cos. v. Honorable James C. Stucky" on Justia Law

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After soil and rock slid down a hill located to the rear of Responents’ property and damaged a building, Respondents submitted a claim for property damage to Erie Insurance Property, their insurance carrier. Erie denied coverage based upon its conclusion that Respondents’ loss was not covered due to the policy’s earth movement exclusion. Respondents sued Erie and Stephen Myers, an adjuster for Erie (collectively, Petitioners), seeking a declaratory judgment as to whether coverage existed. The circuit court granted declaratory judgment in favor of Respondents. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the matter with instructions to enter declaratory judgment for Petitioners, holding (1) the plain and unambiguous terms of the ensuing loss provision of the policy provided a narrow exception to the earth movement exclusion and permitted coverage for the portion of the loss caused by glass breakage; and (2) the other damage caused by the earth movement was not covered. View "Erie Insurance Property & Casualty Co. v. Chaber" on Justia Law

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After a fatal vehicular accident, Christina Varvel asserted a declaratory judgment action against Universal Underwriters Insurance Co. and Zurich American Insurance Co. (collectively, Zurich) to determine the amount of insurance coverage available. Varvel also sued Salvatore Cava, Daniel Cava, and Dan’s Car World, LLC (collectively, the Cava defendants). The Cava defendants filed individual cross-claims against Zurich, their insurer. Zurich filed a motion to dismiss the Cava defendants’ cross-claims under W. Va. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The circuit court denied Zurich’s motion to dismiss, determining that the Cava defendants asserted recognized causes of action against Zurich. Zurich sought a writ of prohibition to prevent enforcement of the circuit court’s order. The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition, as moulded, holding that the Cava defendants’ cross-claims against Zurich were not ripe for adjudication. Therefore, the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and the order denying Zurich’s motion to dismiss the Cava defendants’ cross-claims was void and unenforceable. View "State ex rel. Universal Underwriters Insurance v. Honorable Patrick N. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed an order of the circuit court that granted summary judgment to Steve Sayre in connection with determining the amount of underinsured motorist insurance (UIM) owed by GEICO to Sayre. Concluding that the GEICO policy language was ambiguous, the trial court ruled that, where there were two underinsured motorists in this case, the UIM coverage was triggered separately by each of those motorists. The court then ordered GEICO to pay an additional $20,000 in UIM coverage. The Supreme Court held that the circuit court erred in applying the policy language to require GEICO to pay double the amount of UIM coverage purchased by Sayre. View "Government Employees Insurance Co. v. Sayre" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff owned a building insured by State Auto Property and Casualty Insurance Company that was rendered a total loss by fire. State Farm reduced the adjusted policy limit for the building by fifteen percent under the policy’s vacancy provision. State Farm sent Plaintiff a check for debris removal, but no coverage was extended for pollutant removal. Plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment action, alleging that the State Farm improperly reduced the full policy limit for building coverage by fifteen percent and that he was entitled to the costs he incurred for the removal and testing of asbestos under the policy’s pollutant cleanup and removal coverage. The circuit court entered an order certifying two questions to the Supreme Court. The Court answered (1) an insured may reduce a fire insurance policy’s limit of coverage for total loss by fire for the insured premises by fifteen percent pursuant to a vacancy provision in the policy; and (2) a fire insurance policy that includes a pollutant clean up and removal provision does provide provide coverage in excess of the debris removal coverage afforded by the policy for the removal of asbestos contained in a fire-damaged or destroyed structure. View "Ashraf v. State Auto Property & Casualty Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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This action arose from the murder of a teenager by her two friends. The victim’s parents filed a wrongful death action against the killers and the two women they lived with, Tara Clendenen and Rachel Shoaf. Clendenen and Shoaf were insured under homeowner’s insurance policies issued by American National Property and Casualty Company (ANPAC) and Erie Insurance Property and Casualty Company (Erie). Although not parties to the state court action, ANPAC and Erie filed declaratory judgment actions in the federal district court seeking a determination that the homeowner’s insurance policies did not provide coverage for the claims being asserted in the complaint and that the insurers had no duty to defend or indemnify the defendants. The federal court found that it was unclear whether coverage was available to Sheaf and Clendenen in the state court action and certified questions to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held (1) the unambiguous intentional/criminal acts exclusions in the insurers’ policies precluded liability coverage to Clendenen and Shoaf for the claims in the underlying case because the murder was expected or intended by the killers, co-insureds under their respective policies; and (2) the unambiguous severability clauses in the insurers’ policies did not prevail over the unambiguous intentional/criminal acts exclusions. View "American National Property & Casualty Co. v. Clendenen" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was injured in accident while working for Speed Mining LLC. Plaintiff and his wife (together, Plaintiffs) filed suit against Speed Mining. Plaintiffs also named as defendants related companies and individuals (collectively, the Baughan defendants). At the time of the accident, Speed Mining was a named insured on a workers’ compensation policy of insurance issued by Old Republic. Plaintiff received workers’ compensation benefits under Speed Mining’s workers’ compensation policy. Plaintiffs later amended their complaint to add a declaratory judgment action against Old Republic, as it had asserted a statutory subrogation lien with respect to any settlement obtained by Plaintiffs from the Baughan defendants. Old Republic asserted its own declaratory judgment action against Plaintiffs. The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. Old Republic subsequently filed a W. Va. R. Civ. P. 60(b) motion for relief from entry of judgment order. The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding (1) the circuit court erred in denying Old Republic’s Rule 60 motion; but (2) the circuit court correctly granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs because Old Republic’s claim for subrogation failed. View "Old Republic Ins. Co. v. O'Neal" on Justia Law

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William and Sarah Bassett, who were insured by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, alleged that State Farm engaged in unfair trade practices with regard to the Bassetts’ assertion of unfair trade practices. The Bassetts based their claim on the assertion that State Farm never properly offered additional uninsured coverage, as State Farm was statutorily required to do. The circuit court granted the Bassetts’ motion to compel answers to three interrogatories seeking the names, addresses and telephone numbers of State Farm insureds in West Virginia who may have experienced difficulties regarding their uninsured motorist coverage. State Farm filed this original proceeding in prohibition asking the Court to prohibit enforcement of its discovery order. The Supreme Court granted relief, as moulded, prohibiting enforcement of the order granting the Bassetts’ motion to compel, concluding that the circuit court erred by failing to bar the disclosure of the names, addresses and telephone numbers of State Farm’s other insureds. View "State ex rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Hon. Jeffrey D. Cramer" on Justia Law

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Respondent was injured in a car accident caused by a hit-and-run driver. Respondent filed an uninsured motorist suit against the unknown driver seeking damages. State Farm, Respondent’s uninsured motorists’ insurance carrier, defended the lawsuit. State Farm advanced Respondent $30,628 on her damages before trial, but after the jury returned a verdict for Respondent, the circuit court refused State Farm any credit against the final judgment for the advance payment. The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s judgment order, holding that the court erred (1) when it refused to deduct State Farm’s advance payment against the final judgment, and (2) in calculating prejudgment interest. Remanded. View "Doe v. Pak" on Justia Law