Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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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

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The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court stemming from an appeal in a personal injury case arising from an automobile accident. The Eleventh Circuit asked for the proper interpretation of OCGA 9-11-67.1, which governed the formation of settlement agreements pursuant to a pre-suit “offer to settle a tort claim for personal injury, bodily injury, or death arising from the use of a motor vehicle and prepared by or with the assistance of an attorney on behalf of a claimant or claimants” (a “Pre-Suit Offer”). The Supreme Court responded that OCGA 9-11-67.1 did not prohibit a claimant from conditioning acceptance of a Pre-Suit Offer upon the performance of some act, including a timely payment. The Court left it to the Eleventh Circuit to apply this principle to the facts of this case. View "Grange Mutual Casualty Co. v. Woodard" on Justia Law

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Adrian Burdette was seriously injured when he fell while attempting a controlled descent from a cell-phone tower in contravention of instructions by his employer, Chandler Telecom, LLC (“Chandler”), that technicians must climb down from towers. This case presented the question of whether an employee could, in deliberate disobedience of his employer’s explicit prohibition, act in a knowingly dangerous fashion with disregard for the probable consequences of that act, and still recover workers’ compensation when injured by that disobedient act. The Supreme Court concluded that OCGA 34-9-17(a) could bar recovery in such cases. View "Chandler Telecom, LLC v. Burdette" on Justia Law

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In 1993, Willie Barnes suffered an amputation of his left leg below the knee in an industrial accident at the Georgia-Pacific (GP) wood processing plant where he worked. GP, its insurer Georgia Conversion Primary Ins. Co. and its workers’ compensation servicing agent CCMSI, accepted the claim as catastrophic and began paying temporary total disability (TTD) benefits. Barnes was fitted with a prosthetic leg and returned to lighter duty work in January 1994. On January 30, 1994, GP stopped paying TTD benefits to Barnes, and the TTD benefits were replaced with permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits. The PPD benefits continued until May 1998. In 2006, the GP plant was sold to Roseburg Forest Products Company (Roseburg). Barnes continued working for Roseburg, but was laid off on September 11, 2009. On November 13, 2009, Barnes consulted a doctor regarding chronic knee pain. Two years later, he was fitted for a new prosthetic leg, which was paid for by CCMSI, the company that continued as the workers’ compensation servicing agent for Roseburg and Roseburg’s insurer, ACE American Insurance Co. (ACE American). On August 30, 2012, Barnes filed a claim to resume TTD benefits, asserting the date of his original workplace accident August 13, 1993 as the date of injury. On November 30, 2012, Barnes filed a separate notice of claim, alleging a fictional new injury based on the date that he was terminated from his employment, September 11, 2009. The Administrative Law Judge denied the claims as barred by the applicable statutes of limitation set out in OCGA 34-9-104 (b) and 34-9-82. The State Board of Workers’ Compensation (Board) affirmed, as did the trial court. However, the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that both of Barnes’ claims were not barred by the applicable statutes of limitation. The Supreme Court concluded the appellate court erred in its interpretation of the applicable statutes of limitations in these cases, and reversed. View "Roseburg Forest Products Co. v. Barnes" on Justia Law