Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California
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In the case before the Supreme Court of California, Another Planet Entertainment, LLC, a live entertainment venue operator, sued its insurer, Vigilant Insurance Company, for denying its claim for coverage of pandemic-related business losses. The plaintiff argued that the actual or potential presence of the COVID-19 virus at its venues constituted "direct physical loss or damage to property," triggering coverage under its insurance policy. The district court dismissed the case, and the plaintiff appealed. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals then asked the Supreme Court of California to clarify whether the presence of the COVID-19 virus could constitute "direct physical loss or damage to property" under California law.The Supreme Court of California concluded that allegations of the actual or potential presence of COVID-19 on an insured’s premises do not, without more, establish direct physical loss or damage to property within the meaning of a commercial property insurance policy. Under California law, direct physical loss or damage to property requires a distinct, demonstrable, physical alteration to property. The physical alteration need not be visible to the naked eye, nor must it be structural, but it must result in some injury to or impairment of the property as property. The court found that Another Planet’s allegations did not satisfy this standard. While Another Planet alleges that the COVID-19 virus alters property by bonding or interacting with it on a microscopic level, Another Planet does not allege that any such alteration results in injury to or impairment of the property itself. Its relevant physical characteristics are unaffected by the presence of the COVID-19 virus. View "Another Planet Entertainment, LLC v. Vigilant Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that under California's Motor Carriers of Property Permit Act, Cal. Veh. Code 34600 et seq., a commercial automobile insurance policy does not continue in full force and effect until the insurer cancels a corresponding certificate of insurance on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).Insured was driving a truck covered by his policy with Insurer when he collided with a car, killing its driver. The driver's parents sued Insured for wrongful death, and Insured tendered his defense to Insurer. Insurer settled the claim for its policy limits and then sued Insured's former insurer (Defendant) for declaratory relief, equitable contribution, and equitable subrogation. The trial court held that Defendant's policy remained in effect on the date of the collision because one of Defendant's cancellation notices was rejected by the DMV as incomplete. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified a question of law to the Supreme Court, which answered that the Act does not require a commercial auto insurance policy to remain in effective indefinitely until the insurer cancels the certificate of insurance on file with the DMV. View "Allied Premier Insurance v. United Financial Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal affirming the judgment of the court of appeal granting summary judgment for the defense in this lawsuit brought by the California Medical Association (CMA), holding that the evidence was sufficient to create triable issues of fact precluding summary judgment.CMA, a nonprofit professional association representing California physicians, sued Aetna Health of California Inc. alleging that Aetna violated the unfair competition law (UCL), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 17200 et seq., by engaging in unlawful business practices. At issue was whether Aetna satisifed the UCL's standing requirements by diverting its resources to combat allegedly unfair competition. The Supreme Court held (1) the UCL’s standing requirements are satisfied when an organization, in furtherance of a bona fide, preexisting mission, incurs costs to respond to perceived unfair competition that threatens that mission, so long as those expenditures are independent of costs incurred in UCL litigation or preparations for such litigation; and (2) the trial court erred in granting summary judgment for Aetna on the ground that CMA lacked standing. View "Cal. Medical Assn. v. Aetna Health of Cal., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the language in the insurance policy at issue in this case provided liability coverage for right-of-seclusion violations litigated under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, assuming such coverage is consistent with the insured's reasonable expectations.Privacy injuries involving the right of seclusion are sometimes actionable under the TCPA provided that the violation involves the use of telephonic equipment. The insurance policy in this case provided liability coverage for injuries "arising out of...[o]ral or written publication...of material that violates a person's right of privacy." At issue before the Supreme Court was whether this language provided liability coverage for right-of-seclusion violations brought under the TCPA. The Court held that a commercial general liability insurance policy that provides coverage for "personal injury" defined in part as injury arising out of oral or written publication of material that violates a person's right of privacy can cover liability for violations of the right of seclusion if that coverage is consistent with the insured's reasonable expectations. View "Yahoo Inc. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, PA" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Defendant, which terminated one of the life insurance policies at issue in this case because the policy owner had failed to make a payment, had no right to terminate the policies without complying with the newly codified statutory protections against termination.In 2013, protections to shield consumers from losing life insurance coverage because of a missed premium payment went into effect. The protections were codified in Cal. Ins. Code 10113.71 and 10113.72. Thereafter, Defendant terminated the subject life insurance policy. Plaintiffs brought this action arguing that Defendant had no right to terminate the policies, which predated sections 10113.71 and 10113.72, without complying with the sections. The court of appeal concluded that the newly codified statutory protections against termination did not apply because they appeared to affect only policies issued or delivered after the sections' effective date. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that sections 10113.71 and 10113.72 apply to all life insurance policies in force when these two sections went into effect, regardless of when the policies were originally issued. View "McHugh v. Protective Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In this case involving the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal concluding that sections 631 and 683 of the Unemployment Insurance Code exclude from coverage a provider who is the recipient's minor child, parent, or spouse under the state's unemployment insurance program, holding that the court of appeal did not err.The IHSS program authorized certain Californias, who were disabled or elderly, to receive in-home services from third parties or family members paid for with public funds. Under one program option, service recipients hire their own providers and the providers are paid either by a public entity or by the recipients with funds they have received from a public entity. At issue was whether such a provider qualified for unemployment benefits. The Supreme Court answered the question in the negative, holding that provider who is the recipient's minor child, parent, or spouse is not covered by the state's unemployment insurance program. View "Skidgel v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal reversing the judgment of the trial court granting a class injunctive relief, holding that Insurer was not entitled to immunity under the Insurance Code and that the Insurance Commission did not have exclusive jurisdiction.At issue was whether, if a title insurer charges rates without filing them with the Insurance Commissioner, a consumer can challenge the charges as unlawful in court. The trial court rejected Insurer's argument that it should be held immune from Plaintiff's putative class action under Cal. Ins. Code 12414.26, but the court of appeals reversed, concluding that the class claims were barred because Insurer was in fact immune and that the trial court lacked jurisdiction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the statutory immunity for "act[s] done...pursuant to the authority conferred" by the rate-filing statutes does not shield title insurers from suit for charging unauthorized rates; and (2) the Insurance Commissioner does not have exclusive jurisdiction over unfiled-rate claims. View "Villanueva v. Fidelity National Title Co." on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the sequence in which Montrose Chemical Corporation, which was sued by causing environmental damage in the Los Angeles area, may access its excess insurance policies covering the period from 1961 to 1985, the Supreme Court held that Montrose may seek indemnification under any excess policy once it has exhausted the underlying excess policies in the same policy period.Montrose purchased primary and excess comprehensive general liability insurance to cover its operations at its Torrance facility from defendant insurers between 1961 and 1985. Montrose's primary insurance was exhausted in litigation due to environmental contamination allegedly caused by Montrose's operation of this facility. At issue was whether Montrose was required to exhaust other insurance coverage from other policy periods. The Supreme Court held (1) Montrose was entitled to access otherwise available coverage under any excess policy once it has exhausted directly underlying excess policies for the same policy period; and (2) an insurer called on to provide indemnification may seek reimbursement from other insurers that would have been liable to provide coverage under excess policies for any period in which the injury occurred. View "Montrose Chemical Corp. of California v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court considered two questions from the federal court of appeals regarding California's common-law notice-prejudice rule and held (1) the notice-prejudice rule is a fundamental public policy of the state in the insurance context, and (2) the rule generally applies to consent provisions in the context of first party liability policy coverage and not to consent provisions in third party liability policies.The insurance policy in this case contained a choice of law provision designating that New York law should govern all matters arising under the policy. Under section 187 of the Restatement Second of Conflict of Laws the parties' choice of law generally governs unless it conflicts with a state's fundamental public policy. The party opposing the application of the choice of law provision sought to establish that California's notice-prejudice rule was a fundamental public policy for the purpose of choice-of-law analysis. The federal court of appeals issued certified questions to the Supreme Court, which answered as set forth above. The Court left it to the federal court of appeals to decide whether the consent provision at issue in this case was a consent provision contemplated first party or third party coverage. View "Pitzer College v. Indian Harbor Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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A-1 Self Storage Inc.’s alternative indemnity agreement was not subject to regulation under the Insurance Code because (1) A-1 was not acting as an agent for an insurer, and (2) the indemnification agreement was incidental to the principal object and purpose of renting storage space. See Cal. Ins. Code 1758.7 et seq.In its rental agreements with tenants, A-1 required the tenant to obtain insurance for loss of or damage to a tenant’s stored property, stating that A-1 shall not be liable for such losses. A-1 also offered an alternative to the requirement that the tenant obtain insurance. In exchange for an additional amount in rent per month, A-1 provided that it would reassume the risk of such losses, up to $2,500. Plaintiff brought this putative class action arguing that the alternative constituted an insurance policy, which A-1 was not licensed to sell, and therefore, A-1’s sale of this indemnity agreement violated the Insurance Code. The trial court concluded that the alternative indemnity agreement was not insurance and entered judgment for Defendants. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the alternative indemnity agreement did not constitute insurance subject to regulation under the Insurance Code. View "Heckart v. A-1 Self Storage, Inc." on Justia Law