Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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Dorothy Wright and her grandchildren (collectively, the “Decedents”) were killed when their vehicle was struck by a stolen vehicle that was being chased by College Park Police Department officers. At the time of the accident, the City of College Park had an insurance policy provided by Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company (“Atlantic”), which provided coverage for negligent acts involving the City’s motor vehicles up to $5,000,000 but also included immunity endorsements which said that Atlantic had no duty to pay damages “unless the defenses of sovereign and governmental immunity are inapplicable.” Plaintiffs filed suit against the City, raising claims of negligence and recklessness resulting in the wrongful deaths of the three Decedents, to which the City raised sovereign immunity as a defense. Plaintiffs claimed the insurance policy limit was $5,000,000 for the three deaths, while Atlantic contended the policy limit was capped at $700,000 under the relevant statutory scheme and the terms of the City’s policy. As the parties agreed, pursuant to OCGA 36-92-2 (a)(3), the sovereign immunity of local government entities was automatically waived up to $700,000 in this instance, regardless of whether the City had a liability insurance policy. Atlantic intervened in the case to litigate the limit of the insurance policy. The trial court ruled that the policy limit is $5,000,000, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court then granted Atlantic’s petition for certiorari to decide whether the City’s insurance policy waived the City’s sovereign immunity under OCGA 36-92-2 (d)(3). The Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals incorrectly ruled that the City’s insurance policy increased the sovereign immunity waiver notwithstanding the immunity endorsements, which expressly precluded coverage when a sovereign immunity defense applies. Judgment was therefore reversed. View "Atlantic Specialty Insurance Co. v. City of College Park, et al." on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review to consider whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing a trial court’s order confirming an arbitration award against Interstate National Dealer Services, Inc. (“INDS”), in favor of Southern Mountain Adventures, LLC (“Dealer”), and Adventure Motorsports Reinsurance Ltd. (“Reinsurer”). The dispute arose from the parties’ contractual relationship pursuant to which Dealer sold motorsports vehicle service contracts, which were underwritten and administered by INDS, to Dealer’s retail customers, and Reinsurer held funds in reserve to pay covered repair claims. The Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the confirmation of the award because the arbitrator manifestly disregarded the law in rendering the award. In Case No. S21G0015, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision reversing the order confirming the arbitration award on that basis, and remanded for resolution of INDS’s argument that the arbitrator overstepped his authority in making the award. In Case No. S21G0008, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision dismissing as moot Dealer and Reinsurer’s appeal of the trial court’s failure to enforce a delayed-payment penalty provided in the arbitration award, and remanded for reconsideration of that issue. View "Adventure Motorsports Reinsurance, Ltd., et al. v. Interstate National Dealer Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the Court of Appeals properly identified the accrual date of the legal malpractice claim in this case. The court determined that the accrual date for the malpractice action based on failure to protect an underinsured motorist (“UM”) claim was the date on which the plaintiff’s attorney first became aware that the plaintiff potentially had a UM claim with available coverage. Under the facts of this case, the Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the accrual date was the last day counsel could protect the client’s UM claim by lawfully effecting service on the UM carrier. View "Armstrong et al. v. Cuffie et al." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit certified to three questions of law to the Georgia Supreme Court relating to a lawsuit brought in federal district court by Fife Whiteside, the trustee of the bankruptcy estate of Bonnie Winslett. Whiteside sued GEICO to recover the value of Winslett’s failure-to-settle tort claim against GEICO so that the bankruptcy estate could pay creditor Terry Guthrie, who was injured in an accident caused by Winslett. The certified questions certified asked the Supreme Court to analyze how Georgia law applied to an unusual set of circumstances that implicated both Winslett’s duty to give GEICO notice of suit and GEICO’s duty to settle the claim brought against Winslett. The Supreme Court was unable to give unqualified “yes” or “no” answers to two of the certified questions as they were posed; rather, the Court answered the questions only in the context of the circumstances of this particular case. "Winslett remains liable to Guthrie, even if her bankruptcy trustee succeeds on the failure-to-settle claim against GEICO; therefore, if the bankruptcy estate does not recover enough from GEICO to satisfy Guthrie’s judgment, the estate would not be fully compensated for Winslett’s damages, and GEICO would escape responsibility for breaching its settlement duty to Winslett. Such an outcome would deny Winslett the full measure of compensatory damages allowed under Georgia law." View "GEICO Indemnity Co. v. Whiteside" on Justia Law

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Rochelle Frett was injured when she slipped and fell at her place of employment during a scheduled lunch break. She filed a claim for benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act, but the State Board of Workers’ Compensation denied her claim. Frett appealed, and the superior court upheld the denial of her claim. Frett then appealed the decision of the superior court, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Relying on Ocean Acc. & Guar. Corp. v. Farr, 178 SE 728 (1935), the Court of Appeals held that Frett suffered no injury compensable under the Act because she sustained her injury during a scheduled break, and her injury, therefore, did not arise out of her employment. The Georgia Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari to reconsider Farr and reviewed the decision of the Court of Appeals in this case. The Supreme Court overruled Farr, and reversed the decision below. View "Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers Compensation" on Justia Law

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Travelers Property Casualty Company of America (“Travelers”) filed suit against SRM Group, Inc. (“SRM”), seeking to recover unpaid premiums due under a workers’ compensation insurance policy. In response, SRM asserted counterclaims against Travelers for breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, and attorney fees based on Travelers’ audit of SRM’s employee risk classifications and subsequent refusal to reclassify those employees, which resulted in a substantial retroactive increase in the premium. A jury awarded Travelers damages based on SRM's failure to pay some of the alleged increased premium due under the policy. However, the jury found that Travelers had also breached the contract and acted in bad faith in conducting the audit and failing to reclassify certain SRM employees. The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court's review centered on whether a counterclaimant asserting an independent compulsory counterclaim could seek attorney fees and litigation expenses under Georgia case law. The Supreme Court overruled Byers v. McGuire Properties, Inc, 679 SE2d 1 (2009), and Sponsler v. Sponsler, 699 SE2d 22 (2010). "Thus, a plaintiff-in-counterclaim asserting an independent claim may seek, along with that claim, attorney fees and litigation expenses under OCGA 13-6-11, regardless of whether the independent claim is permissive or compulsory." In this case, the Court reversed that part of the Court of Appeals' opinion that followed Byers. View "SRM Group, Inc. v. Travelers Property Cas. Co. of America" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to review whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the grant of summary judgment to the insurer on the insured’s failure-to-settle claim. The Court also asked the parties to address whether an insurer’s duty to settle arises only when the injured party presents a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits or whether, even absent such an offer, a duty arises when the insurer knows or reasonably should know that settlement within the insured’s policy limits is possible. As to this threshold issue, the Court concluded an insurer’s duty to settle arises only when the injured party presents a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits. Applying the applicable rules of contract construction to correspondence from two injured parties in the instant case, the Court concluded the injured parties presented to the insurer a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits but that the offer did not include any deadline for accepting the offer. Based on the undisputed evidence, as a matter of law, the insurer did not act unreasonably in failing to accept the offer before it was withdrawn by the injured parties. As the insurer was entitled to summary judgment, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "First Acceptance Insurance Company of Georgia, Inc. v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted writs of certiorari in two cases involving the liquidation of an insurance company to review the Court of Appeals’ decision in State of Georgia v. International Indemnity Company, 809 SE2d 64 (2017). The dispositive issue presented was whether the official immunity provision in OCGA 33-37-8.1 applied to claims for a “surcharge” and attorney fees against the State Insurance Commissioner and two other state employees, all in their official capacities as the liquidator and his deputies, and against a private company involved in the liquidation. The Court determined the Court of Appeals incorrectly concluded that section 33-37-8.1 would be applicable to these parties, and reversed that part of the Court of Appeals’ judgment allowing the claims to proceed against the state officer and employees in their official capacities. The Court affirmed in all other respects, meaning the case could proceed against the private company. View "Georgia v. International Indemnity Co." on Justia Law

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United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified a question of Georgia law to the state Supreme Court. At issue in this insurance coverage dispute between plaintiff National Casualty Company, a commercial insurer, and defendant Georgia School Boards Association - Risk Management Fund (“Risk Fund”), an interlocal risk management agency created pursuant to Article 29 of Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Georgia Code, OCGA 20-2-2001 et seq. The gravamen of the question was whether Georgia law or public policy precluded a commercial insurance policy that was excess to coverage provided under OCGA 20-2-2002; the Supreme Court answered in the negative, there was no such prohibition. View "National Casualty Company v. Georgia School Boards Association Risk Management Fund" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Candice Reis and Melvin Williams appealed the grant of summary judgment to defendant OOIDA Risk Retention Group, Inc. (“OOIDA”) in a direct action against OOIDA and others arising from a vehicular collision involving Plaintiffs and a motor carrier insured by OOIDA. At issue was whether provisions in the federal Liability Risk Retention Act of 1986 (“the LRRA”), 15 USC 3901, et seq., preempted Georgia’s motor carrier and insurance carrier direct action statutes, OCGA sections 40-1-112 (c),1 40-2-140 (d) (4), in regard to risk retention groups, thereby precluding this direct action against OOIDA. After review of the statutes at issue here, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded there was indeed federal preemption of this action against OOIDA, and consequently, affirmed summary judgment. View "Reis et al. v. OOIDA Risk Retention Group, Inc. et al." on Justia Law