Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi
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Benjamin Robinson drove his employer’s vehicle into the rear end of a stopped Holmes County garbage truck. The garbage truck was stopped picking up garbage on the side of the highway in dense fog. Robinson sued Holmes County and his uninsured motorist carrier, Brierfield Insurance Company. Robinson claimed Holmes County was negligent in its operation of the garbage truck. Robinson also asserted a breach of contract claim, stating that Brierfield Insurance Company breached the insurance contract by denying him uninsured motorist benefits. The trial court granted summary judgment and found not only that Holmes County was not negligent but also that it was immune under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The trial court further found that, since Holmes County was not negligent, Brierfield also was not liable as the uninsured motorist insurance provider. Robinson appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed granting summary judgment to Holmes County and Brierfield Insurance Company. View "Robinson v. Holmes County, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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This case arose from Hurricane Katrina insurance litigation. After the hurricane had destroyed many homes, policyholders and insurance companies began litigating whether the hurricane losses were caused by flood damage or wind damage. The distinction determined whether the insurance companies would pay claims on those polices that did not cover flood damage. This case is before the Court on interlocutory appeal. Safeco Insurance Company (Safeco) and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company individually challenged the circuit court’s reassignment of their respective cases and the appointment of a special master. The Mississippi Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in reassigning judges, but vacated the order appointing the special master, finding an abuse of the trial court’s discretion. “The order itself acknowledged a blind-billing provision was “unusual.” But the Supreme Court found it was more than that: requiring both parties, one of which is the State of Mississippi, to pay an attorney in Louisiana to act as a judge, allowing either side to meet with him ex parte, and not requiring this special master to mention these meetings or even justify or detail his bill far exceeded the discretionary authority to appoint special masters.” View "Safeco Insurance Company of America v. Mississippi, ex rel. Hood" on Justia Law

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James Allen Insurance Brokers (JAIB) and Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, Subscribing to Certificate No. FRO-100944 (Lloyd’s) petitioned the Mississippi Supreme Court for interlocutory review of the Simpson County, Mississippi Circuit Court’s order granting partial summary judgment in favor of First Financial Bank (FFB). The trial court held that FFB was entitled to insurance proceeds from a fire loss that occurred at Luther and Freda Feazell’s poultry farm, because JAIB and Lloyd’s failed to comply with Mississippi law requiring notice of cancellation of property insurance. JAIM and Lloyd's claimed the Feazells' premium was not received on time; the effective date of the policy at issue here was reset to the date premium was paid. The Supreme Court determined coverage was effective December 13, 2013, and under the terms of the binder, and FFB having been listed in the binder as a mortgagee/loss payee, triggered Miss. Code Ann. Section 83-5-28(1)’s notification requirements. JAIB and Lloyd’s failed to comply with those statutory notification requirements; therefore, they were liable to FFB for its loss. Accordingly, the Supreme Court determined the trial court correctly granted partial summary judgment in favor of FFB. View "James Allen Insurance Brokers and Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London, Subscribing to Certificate NO. FRO-100944 v. First Financial Bank" on Justia Law

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Dorothy Smith sued her homeowner's insurance carrier, Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company (“Farm Bureau”), after Farm Bureau denied her claim based on the earth-movement exclusion in the policy. Smith filed suit against her home builder, Larry Brown, d/b/a Brown’s Construction Company, and Farm Bureau after learning that her home’s foundation was defective. Smith filed a claim for the repair of the foundation. Farm Bureau filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by the trial court. Farm Bureau then filed a petition for interlocutory appeal by permission, which the Mississippi Supreme Court granted. The Supreme Court found the trial court erred in denying Farm Bureau’s motion for summary judgment: the earth-movement exclusion was unambiguous and excluded coverage for the property damage suffered by Smith. View "Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Timothy Hinton died from injuries sustained in a fall from a tree stand. At the time of his fall, Timothy was wearing a fall-arrest system which included a full-body harness, tether and tree strap. Timothy had purchased the tree stand and fall-arrest system from The Sportsman’s Guide, Inc. (“TSG”), in 2009. C&S Global Imports, Inc. (“C&S”) had manufactured the items and marketed them to TSG. Pekin Insurance Company insured C&S at the time of Timothy’s injury and death. After filing their third amended complaint, the Hintons filed a motion for partial summary judgment against Pekin, claiming Pekin waived its defenses to coverage or should have been estopped from asserting any coverage defenses. Among other arguments, the Hintons maintained that Pekin failed to defend C&S, did not file a declaratory-judgment action and allowed a default judgment against C&S. The circuit court denied the Hintons’ motion. Pekin then moved for summary judgment, arguing the insurance policy excluded coverage for tree or deer stands and related equipment. The circuit court granted Pekin’s motion and entered a final judgment dismissing Pekin from the suit. The Hintons appealed both of the circuit court’s rulings. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the order denying partial summary judgment to the Hintons, the order granting summary judgment to Pekin and the final judgment dismissing Pekin from the suit. View "Hinton v. Pekin Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of state law to the Mississippi Supreme Court pertaining to an incident at Omega Protein Corporation’s (Omega) facility that resulted in the death of an employee of Accu-Fab & Construction, Inc. (Accu-Fab). Although Colony Insurance Company (Colony) continually maintained that it did not insure Omega, Colony negotiated and paid a settlement claim under a reservation of rights on Omega’s behalf. Because Colony took the position that it had no duty to defend Omega at all, the district court concluded that Mississippi’s voluntary-payment doctrine precluded Colony’s claims for equitable subrogation and implied indemnity. Pursuant to Mississippi case-law, an insurer is barred from seeking indemnity for a voluntary payment. In order to recover, the indemnitee must prove that it both paid under compulsion and that it was legally liable to the person injured. The question certified from the federal court posited whether an insurer acts under “compulsion” if it takes the legal position that an entity purporting to be its insured is not covered by its policy, but nonetheless pays the settlement demand in good faith to avoid potentially greater liability that could arise from a future coverage determination, and whether the insurer satisfies the “legal duty” standard if it makes such a payment. The Supreme Court found an insurer does not act under compulsion if it takes the legal position that an entity purporting to be its insured is not covered by its policy but nonetheless pays a settlement demand in good faith to avoid potentially greater liability that could arise from a future coverage determination. Because the first certified question is dispositive, the Court declined to address the second certified question. View "Colony Insurance Company v. First Specialty Insurance Corporation" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Tarinika Smith and twelve minor children (collectively Plaintiffs) were involved in an automobile accident with a vehicle driven by Adlai Johnson. Smith was operating a passenger van owned by Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church (Mt. Vernon), located in Rossville, Tennessee, which was transporting the children. The accident occurred in Marshall County, Mississippi. At the time of the collision, Smith was pregnant. Plaintiffs and Johnson were all Tennessee residents. The Marshall County Circuit Court entered an order dismissing Johnson from the suit for Plaintiffs’ failure to timely serve him. Church Mutual Insurance Company (“Church Mutual”), Mt. Vernon's insurer, moved to have the trial court declare that Tennessee substantive law controlled the case. After the trial court so declared, Church Mutual moved for summary judgment based on Tennessee law prohibiting direct actions against insurers for uninsured motorist (“UM”) claims. The trial court then entered summary judgment in favor of Church Mutual. Plaintiffs sought interlocutory review of all three rulings. The Mississippi Supreme Court found no error in the dismissal of Johnson for Plaintiffs’ failure to serve. Furthermore, the Supreme Court found no error with the trial court applying Tennessee law to determine whether the contract provided UM coverage to Plaintiffs. However, the Court determined the trial court erred in applying Tennessee substantive law. Therefore, the Court reversed those judgments of the Marshall County Circuit Court and remand for further proceedings. View "Smith v. Church Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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By interlocutory appeal, Central Insurers of Grenada, Inc., challenges the Warren County Circuit Court’s denial of its motion to dismiss William Greenwood’s complaint against it for insufficient service of process. Greenwood, the owner of Antique Wood Company of Mississippi, filed a complaint against Central and three other defendants, alleging breach of contract, conspiracy, and bad faith due to the defendants’ refusal to provide coverage under a commercial liability insurance policy Greenwood had purchased from them. Greenwood’s complaint acknowledged that Central was a Mississippi corporation, identified Lynn Simmons Grim as Central’s registered agent for service of process, and listed an address in Grenada County, Mississippi, where Grim could be served. However, Greenwood did not personally serve process on an officer or registered agent of Central, nor did he mail a copy of the complaint and summons directly to Central or its registered agent. Instead, Greenwood’s process server served a copy of the complaint and summons on an employee of the Mississippi Commissioner of Insurance. The Commissioner’s legal process clerk then forwarded a copy of the complaint and summons, along with a notification letter, to Central via certified mail. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in finding the Mississippi Commissioner of Insurance was authorized to accept service of process on Central's behalf, so it reversed that judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Central Insurers of Grenada, Inc. v. William Greenwood d/b/a Antique Wood Company of Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Stacy Triplett filed three lawsuits against her former employer, Southern Hens, all stemming from an incident in which Triplett, while working, witnessed the gruesome death of a coworker. This incident caused Triplett mental anguish leading to an award of workers’ compensation benefits. After Triplett allegedly incurred some trouble in collecting her award of workers’ compensation benefits, she sued Southern Hens and Southern Hens’s carrier, Liberty Mutual. Triplett’s first lawsuit against Southern Hens, for failure to pay, ultimately was dismissed. Triplett then filed a second lawsuit against Southern Hens for failure to report; Triplett failed to serve Southern Hens within 120 days, as required under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 4(h). With no official court action on her second suit, and admittedly knowing that she could not show good cause for failure to serve in the second suit, Triplett filed a third suit against Southern Hens , like the second, was for failure to report. Aware of the second suit, the circuit court dismissed Triplett’s third suit as an impermissible duplicative suit. Triplett appealed. Finding no error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Triplett v. Southern Hens, Inc." on Justia Law

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Stacy Triplett filed three lawsuits against her former employer, Southern Hens, all stemming from an incident in which Triplett, while working, witnessed the gruesome death of a coworker. This incident caused Triplett mental anguish leading to an award of workers’ compensation benefits. After Triplett allegedly incurred some trouble in collecting her award of workers’ compensation benefits, she sued Southern Hens and Southern Hens’s carrier, Liberty Mutual. Triplett’s first lawsuit against Southern Hens, for failure to pay, ultimately was dismissed. Triplett then filed a second lawsuit against Southern Hens for failure to report; Triplett failed to serve Southern Hens within 120 days, as required under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 4(h). With no official court action on her second suit, and admittedly knowing that she could not show good cause for failure to serve in the second suit, Triplett filed a third suit against Southern Hens , like the second, was for failure to report. Aware of the second suit, the circuit court dismissed Triplett’s third suit as an impermissible duplicative suit. Triplett appealed. Finding no error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Triplett v. Southern Hens, Inc." on Justia Law