Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi
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VT Halter Marine (VTHM), a shipbuilder, contracted to build a barge and a tug for a client. During construction, over a thousand steel flange plates were incorrectly bent due to the use of an improperly sized die, leading to thinning and cracking of the plates. The faulty plates were installed onto the vessels, and the cracking was discovered later. The cost of replacing and repairing the cracked flange plates amounted to approximately $3,300,000. VTHM submitted a claim to their insurer, Certain Underwriters of Lloyd’s of London (Underwriters), for the cracked flange plates.The Underwriters denied VTHM's claim, asserting that the policy excluded coverage for faulty workmanship and the cost of replacing or repairing improper or defective materials. VTHM contested the denial, leading to a lawsuit for breach of contract. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment in the trial court. The trial court granted Underwriters' motion for summary judgment, ruling that the policy unambiguously excluded coverage for faulty workmanship and the cost of repairing, replacing, or renewing any improper or defective materials.In the Supreme Court of Mississippi, VTHM appealed the trial court's decision, arguing that the flanges were part of the vessel and coverage for faulty workmanship exists if it results in cracking of the vessel. The Supreme Court, however, affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court found that the insurance policy unambiguously excluded the cost of replacing or repairing improper or defective materials. The court concluded that the faulty workmanship directly resulted in improper materials being installed, and the only resulting damage was to the improper materials themselves. Therefore, VTHM's claim for the costs of repairing and/or replacing the improper materials installed was not covered under the policy. View "VT Halter Marine, Inc. v. Certain Underwriters of Lloyd's of London" on Justia Law

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On July 12, 2018, Sunbelt Shavings, LLC (Sunbelt), requested that an employee from KC Welding, LLC (KC Welding), come to Sunbelt’s property to repair the door of a box containing wood chips. KC Welding arrived and welded the box; later that night, a fire started at Sunbelt’s property. The fire was extinguished on July 13, 2018. Three years later, on July 13, 2021, Western World Insurance Group (Western World), as the subrogee of Sunbelt, Shuqualak Lumber Co., and Wood Carriers, Inc., sued KC Welding for breach of contract and negligence. KC Welding moved to dismiss the case as untimely. On May 2, 2022, the trial court granted KC Welding’s motion, dismissing Western World’s complaint as untimely. Western World appealed. Finding that Western World had until July 12, 2021, to bring a timely claim against KC Welding, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the complaint as untimely. View "Western World Insurance Group v. KC Welding, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant Alex Herrgott, was driving a four-seat Polaris all-terrain vehicle at night down a gravel road when he “overcorrected” trying to avoid a pothole. The ATV overturned, and Joseph MacNabb, a passenger, was severely injured. Since MacNabb was a state employee in the course and scope of his employment, he received workers’ compensation benefits from the Mississippi State Agencies Self-Insured Workers’ Compensation Trust. The Trust later initiated this litigation in an attempt to recover more than $300,000 in benefits paid for MacNabb’s injury. The circuit court ultimately granted summary judgment to Herrgott because the Trust’s Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 30(b)(6) representative could not articulate a legal theory entitling it to recover. The Mississippi Supreme Court found there was sufficient evidence of Herrgott’s negligence for the case to go to trial, and the deposition testimony of a lay witness should not have bound the Trust as to which legal theories it could pursue. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the summary judgment and remanded the case for trial. View "Mississippi State Agencies Self-Insured Workers' Compensation Trust v. Herrgott" on Justia Law

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Penn-Star Insurance Company (Penn-Star) appealed a trial court’s denial of its motion for summary judgment. The Mississippi Supreme Court found after review of the trial court record that because the commercial general liability policy at issue did not cover the sustained losses, the trial court’s order was reversed, judgment was rendered in favor of Penn-Star, and this case was remanded to the trial court for consideration of the remaining issues. View "Penn-Star Insurance Company v. Thompson, et al." on Justia Law

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Amanda Bryant filed suit against State Farm Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm) and its attorneys, Henley, Lotterhos & Henley, PLLC (HLH), claiming negligence, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress based on HLH’s actions in a prior subrogation claim. HLH argued in a Motion to Dismiss or, In the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment that it was not a proper party to this lawsuit because it was the legal representative of the adverse party in the prior subrogation matter. For this reason, HLH argued it did not owe a duty to Bryant that could give rise to tort liability. The trial court disagreed with HLH and denied its motion. The Mississippi Supreme Court granted HLH’s petition for interlocutory appeal. Based on caselaw, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order and rendered judgment in favor of HLH. Because State Farm was still party to the action, the case was remanded to the trial court for continuation of the proceedings. View "Henley, Lotterhos & Henley, PLLC v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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Following a vehicular accident, Martin Peteet entered into a release and settlement agreement with the driver of the other vehicle and her insurer. Peteet did not seek a waiver of subrogation or consent from his own automobile insurer, Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company (Farm Bureau), prior to executing the release and settlement agreement. After the release and settlement agreement was executed, Peteet filed a complaint against Farm Bureau, seeking damages under the uninsured motorist (UM) provision in his auto policy with Farm Bureau. Farm Bureau moved to dismiss the complaint, and the county court denied the motion. Farm Bureau sought an interlocutory appeal, which the Mississippi Supreme Court granted. After a careful review of the law, the Supreme Court reversed the denial of the motion to dismiss and rendered judgment in favor of Farm Bureau. View "Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company v. Peteet" on Justia Law

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Almost two decades prior to this decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court handed down Farmland Mutual Insurance Co. v. Scruggs, 886 So. 2d 714 (Miss. 2004). In that opinion, the Court held that Farmland Mutual Insurance Co., the liability insurer for Mitchell Scruggs, Eddie Scruggs, Scruggs Farms & Supplies LLC, and Scruggs Farm Joint Venture (collectively, Scruggs), had no duty to defend Scruggs in a federal lawsuit by Monsanto Company. The reason no coverage applied was because Monsanto had alleged that Scruggs committed the intentional act of conversion by saving and using unlicensed seeds. Eight years later, a district court judge overturned a jury’s verdict that Scruggs had willfully violated Monsanto’s patents. Consequently, Scruggs was not liable for treble damages and attorney’s fees. Scruggs returned to state court in 2013. Citing Rule 60(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure, Scruggs asked the Lee County Circuit Court to reopen and vacate the final judgment entered in 2004 in favor of Farmland on the coverage issue. Scruggs asserted the Mississippi Supreme Court’s opinion had been erroneously decided based on facts that came to light in the federal case. The state court rejected the motion as untimely under Rule 60(b). Scruggs appealed. While Scruggs asserted the motion was timely, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the motion’s timing is irrelevant: Rule 60(b) was not a procedural vehicle for a trial court to overturn a mandate issued from the Mississippi Supreme Court. Because the trial court lacked jurisdiction to grant Scruggs’s request, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s denial of the motion. View "Scruggs, et al. v. Farmland Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Niyokia Lee and James Cooper sustained damages in separate, independent automobile accidents caused by negligent city emergency responders. Lee’s accident happened in Harrison County, and Cooper’s happened in Rankin County. The Mississippi Tort Claims Act afforded immunity to the negligent police officer, the fireman, and the governmental entities employing them. Because Lee and Cooper could not recover from the responders or municipalities, both sought recovery under their car insurance policies’ uninsured motorist provisions. Lee and Cooper had the same UM coverage carrier—State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. And State Farm denied UM coverage to both, citing Mississippi Code Section 83-11-101(1) of Mississippi’s Uninsured Motorist Act. As State Farm saw it, because the officer and fireman enjoyed police and fire protection immunity under the MTCA, neither policyholder was legally entitled to recover from the immune responders or their city employers. State Farm thus denied UM coverage to Lee and Cooper despite the fact that, in 2009, the state legislature had revised Mississippi Code Section 83-11-103(c) of the UM Act by adding a new subsection expanding the definition of “uninsured motor vehicle” to include “[a] motor vehicle owned or operated by a person protected by immunity under the [MTCA.]” The two trial courts considering the UM coverage issue reached opposite results. The Harrison County Circuit Court granted summary judgment in State Farm’s favor and dismissed Lee’s claims against State Farm, finding because the officer was immune, Lee was not "legally entitled to recover" and consequently, was not eligible for UM coverage. The Rankin County Court granted summary judgment in Cooper’s favor, against State Farm, ruling UM coverage did apply because, otherwise, the 2009 amendment to the UM Act, which expanded the definition of “uninsured motor vehicle” to include vehicles operated by persons who are immune under the MTCA, would be "rendered virtually meaningless." The Mississippi Supreme Court consolidating the two cases found that the plain language of the two provisions made it apparent that Lee and Cooper were entitled to UM coverage. It therefore reversed and remanded the decision of the Harrison County Circuit Court, and affirmed and remanded the decision of the Rankin County Circuit Court. View "Lee v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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In July 2017, Jeremy Thornhill said that he had injured his back while working. He sought workers’ compensation benefits from his employer, Walker-Hill and its insurance carrier, Zurich American Insurance Company of Illinois (collectively, Employer/Carrier), but the Employer/Carrier denied that Thornhill had sustained a compensable injury. Ultimately, the parties agreed to compromise and settled pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 71-3-29 (Rev. 2021). Thornhill submitted the settlement to the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission for approval. After examining the application, the Commission approved the settlement and dismissed Thornhill’s case with prejudice. Pursuant to the settlement, Thornhill signed a general release,” which reserved his right to pursue a bad faith claim. Believing he had exhausted his administrative remedies, Thornhill filed a bad faith suit against the Employer/Carrier. The Employer/Carrier moved to dismiss, arguing that Thornhill had not exhausted administrative remedies—and that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction—because the Commission never made a factual finding that he was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The trial court granted the motion on that basis. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, finding that Thornhill indeed exhausted his administrative remedies and that the circuit court had jurisdiction to hear his bad faith claim. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court’s decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Thornhill v. Walker-Hill Environmental, et al." on Justia Law

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The question presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court in this case “boils down to one of statutory interpretation:” whether plaintiff Crystal Bufkin was “legally entitled to recover” damages from her employer under the uninsured motorist statute, Mississippi Code Section 83-11-101(1) (Supp. 2021). The Supreme Court previously held that employees are not legally entitled to recover from their employers and thus could not make a claim under uninsured motorist coverages. Bufkin acknowledged that precedent precluded her claim, but she argued Medders v. U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co., 623 So. 2d 979 (Miss. 1993 )and its progeny were wrongly decided because the uninsured motorist law should be liberally construed in her favor. The Supreme Court concluded it already rejected the arguments Bufkin presented here, and declined to overrule Medders. View "Bufkin v. Geico Insurance Agency, Inc." on Justia Law