Justia Insurance Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Khalil v. Williams
The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether Appellant’s legal malpractice claims against Appellees, her former attorneys, were barred under the Court’s decision in Muhammad v. Strassburger, McKenna, Messer, Shilobod & Gutnick, 587 A.2d 1346 (Pa. 1991), which held that a plaintiff could not sue his attorney on the basis of the adequacy of a settlement to which the plaintiff agreed, unless the plaintiff alleged the settlement was the result of fraud. Appellant, Dr. Ahlam Kahlil, owned a unit in the Pier 3 Condominiums in Philadelphia; the unit was insured by State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (“State Farm”). The Pier 3 Condominium Association (“Pier 3”) was insured under a master policy issued by Travelers Property Casualty Company of America (“Travelers”). In May 2007, Appellant sustained water damage to her unit as a result of a leak in the unit directly above hers, which was owned by Jason and Anne Marie Diegidio. Due to the water damage, Appellant moved out of her unit and stopped paying her condominium fees. Appellant filed suit against State Farm and Travelers, alleging breach of contract and bad faith, and against the Diegidios, alleging negligence. A year later, Pier 3 filed a separate lawsuit against Appellant for her unpaid condominium fees and charges. In affirming in part and reversing in part the trial court, the Supreme Court found that by finding Appellant’s claims were barred under Muhammad, the lower courts ignored other averments in Appellant’s complaint which did not allege fraud, but, rather, alleged legal malpractice by Appellees in allowing Appellant to enter into a settlement agreement in the Water Damage Case that subsequently precluded her from raising her desired claims in the Fees Case, while repeatedly advising Appellant that the settlement agreement would not preclude those claims. "[A]s our review of Appellant’s complaint demonstrates that she was not merely challenging the amount of her settlement in the Water Damage Case, but rather alleged that Appellees provided incorrect legal advice regarding the scope and effect the Travelers Release, we hold that Muhammad’s bar on lawsuits based on the adequacy of a settlement is not implicated in this case." View "Khalil v. Williams" on Justia Law
Arlet v. WCAB (L&I)
In 2011, during the course and scope of his employment as a shipwright, Claimant Robert Arlet slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk on the premises of his employer, Flagship Niagara League (Employer), sustaining injuries. Employer had obtained a Commercial Hull Policy from Acadia Insurance Company (Insurer). Through the policy, Insurer provided coverage for damages caused by the Brig Niagara and for Jones Act protection and indemnity coverage for the “seventeen (17) crewmembers” of the Brig Niagara. Employer had also at some point obtained workers’ compensation insurance from the State Workers’ Insurance Fund (SWIF). Insurer paid benefits to Claimant under its Commercial Hull Policy’s “maintenance and cure” provision. Claimant filed for workers’ compensation benefits. Employer asserted Claimant’s remedy was exclusively governed by the Jones Act. Employer also filed to join SWIF as an additional insurer in the event the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) was deemed to supply the applicable exclusive remedy, and Employer was found to be liable thereunder. SWIF denied coverage, alleging Employer’s policy was lapsed at the time of Claimant’s injury. Thereafter, Claimant filed an Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (UEGF) claim petition, asserting the fund’s liability in the event he prevailed, and Employer was deemed uncovered by SWIF and failed to pay. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) found that as a land-based employee, Claimant did not meet the definition of seaman under the Jones Act and was, therefore, entitled to pursue his workers’ compensation claim. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was one of first impression: the right of an insurer to subrogation under the WCA. The Supreme Court concluded Insurer’s Commercial Hull Policy did not cover Claimant, because Claimant was not a “seaman” or crew member. The WCA’s exclusive remedy applied, but Insurer was seeking subrogation for payment it made on a loss it did not cover. "[T]he 'no-coverage exception' to the general equitable rule precluding an insurer from pursuing subrogation against its insured comports with the purposes and public policy supporting the rule and hereby adopt it as the law of this Commonwealth. ... any equitable rule precluding an insurer from seeking subrogation against its insured is best tempered by the exception adopted herein today." View "Arlet v. WCAB (L&I)" on Justia Law
Donovan, et al. v. State Farm Mutual Ins. Co.
The United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court involving the state's Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). In July 2015, Corey Donovan (“Corey”) suffered significant injuries due to a collision between a motorcycle, which he owned and was operating, and an underinsured vehicle. He recovered the $25,000 limit of coverage available under the policy insuring the underinsured vehicle as well as the $50,000 per person limit of UIM coverage available under Corey’s policy insuring the motorcycle, issued by State Farm Automobile Insurance Company. Corey then sought coverage under a policy issued by State Farm to his mother, Linda Donovan (“Linda”), under which he was insured as a resident relative. Linda’s Auto Policy insured three automobiles but not Corey’s motorcycle. Linda’s policy had a UIM coverage limit of $100,000 per person, and Linda signed a waiver of stacked UIM coverage on her policy which complied with the waiver form mandated by Section 1738(d) of the MVFRL. First, the Pennsylvania Court considered whether an insured’s signature on the waiver form mandated by 75 Pa.C.S. 1738(d) resulted in the insured’s waiver of inter-policy stacking of UIM coverage where the relevant policy insured multiple vehicles. To this, the Supreme Court held the waiver invalid as applied to inter-policy stacking for multi-vehicle policies in light of its decision in Craley v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 895 A.2d 530 (Pa. 2006). The Court then determined whether the policy’s household vehicle exclusion was enforceable following its decision in Gallagher v. GEICO Indemnity Company, 201 A.3d 131 (Pa. 2019). Finally, after concluding that the household vehicle exclusion was unenforceable absent a valid waiver of inter-policy stacking, the Court addressed the third question posed by the Court of Appeals regarding the applicability of the policy’s coordination of benefits provision for unstacked UIM coverage. After review, the Supreme Court held that the policy’s coordination of benefits provision for unstacked UIM coverage did not apply absent a valid waiver of inter-policy stacking. Having answered these questions of law, the matter was returned to the Third Circuit. View "Donovan, et al. v. State Farm Mutual Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Clark (Est of M. Clark) v. Stover, et al
The underlying controversy entailed will-, estate-, and insurance-contest litigation commenced in 2008 by Appellee Jeffrey Stover in his capacity as the attorney for Appellant, David Clark, who was the testator’s brother. In 2010, Appellee Stover also lodged a second complaint on behalf of Monica Clark, the testator’s mother, now deceased. After the claims in both actions failed, Appellant and Mrs. Clark filed this legal malpractice action in 2015, advancing claims of professional negligence and breach of contract against Appellee Stover and his law firm. Upon Appellees’ motion, the common pleas court awarded summary judgment in their favor, finding, as relevant here, that Appellant and Mrs. Clark were aware of the alleged negligence and the asserted breach more than four years before they lodged the malpractice action. Since the applicable statutes of limitations provided for commencement of a negligence action within two years after accrual, and a contractual action within four years after breach, the county court found the claims to be untimely. The Superior Court affirmed on the "occurrence rule." The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to address the "continuous representation rule," under which the applicable statutes of limitations would not run until the date on which Appellees' representation was terminated. Appellant maintains that this rule should be adopted in Pennsylvania to permit statutes of limitations for causes of action sounding in legal malpractice to be “tolled until the attorney’s ongoing representation is complete.” While the Supreme Court recognized "there are mixed policy considerations involved, as relating to statutes of limitations relegated to the legislative province, we conclude that the appropriate balance should be determined by the General Assembly." The Superior Court judgment was affirmed. View "Clark (Est of M. Clark) v. Stover, et al" on Justia Law
Woodford v. PA Insurance Dept.
In a matter of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this case to consider whether Section 310.74(a) of the Insurance Department Act of 1921 prohibited a licensed insurance producer from charging fees in addition to commissions in non-commercial, i.e. personal, insurance transactions. During its investigation, the Department discovered that, between March 2011 and October 2015, appellants charged a non-refundable $60- $70 fee to customers seeking to purchase personal insurance products. These fees were collected from the customers before appellants prepared the insurance policy applications. One consumer complaint indicated appellants kept an “un- refundable broker application fee” when the consumer declined to buy a policy. The Department’s investigation also revealed appellants paid a “one-time” $50 referral fee to car dealership sales personnel when they referred their customers in need of insurance. The Department concluded appellants’ fee practices included improper fees charged to consumers “for the completion of an application for a contract of insurance” and prohibited referral payments to the car dealerships. The Supreme Court held lower tribunals did not err when they determined Section 310.74(a) of the Act did not authorize appellants to charge the $60-$70 non-refundable fee to their customers seeking to purchase personal motor vehicle insurance. The Commonwealth Court’s decision upholding the Commissioner’s Adjudication and Order was affirmed. View "Woodford v. PA Insurance Dept." on Justia Law
Wintersteen v. Truck Ins. Exchange
In consolidated appeals, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether, under the terms of the “replacement cost coverage” policies at issue, the insurer was permitted to withhold from any actual cash value (“ACV”) payment general contractor’s overhead and profit (“GCOP”) expenses, unless and until the insureds undertook repairs of the damaged property, even though the services of a general contractor were reasonably likely to be needed to complete the repairs. Appellants Konrad Kurach and Mark Wintersteen (“Policyholders”) each purchased identical “Farmers Next Generation” insurance policies from Appellee Truck Insurance Company (“Insurer”), to cover their Pennsylvania residential dwellings. Subsequent to the purchase of these policies, both Policyholders sustained water damage to their houses in excess of $2,500, and both filed claims with Insurer under the policies. Thus, where, as here, the cost of repairing or replacing a policyholder’s damaged property exceeds $2,500, Insurer was first required to pay the ACV of the property at the time of the loss to the policyholder (“step one”). Once the repair or replacement of the damaged property is commenced, Insurer was then obligated (in “step two”) to pay the depreciated value of the damaged property and also the expense of hiring a general contractor, “unless the law of [Pennsylvania] requires” payment of GCOP as part of ACV. After careful review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Superior Court, which found the insurer was entitled to withhold such costs. View "Wintersteen v. Truck Ins. Exchange" on Justia Law
Erie Ins. v. Moore, et al
At issue in this appeal was whether the alleged conduct of an insured, Harold McCutcheon, Jr. (McCutcheon), as described in a personal injury lawsuit filed against his estate by Richard Carly, obligated McCutcheon’s insurer, appellant Erie Insurance Exchange (Erie) to defend the estate against Carly’s complaint. In 2013, McCutcheon broke into the home of his ex-wife, Terry McCutcheon, in order to shoot and kill her, and then kill himself. He communicated these intentions in a note he left for his adult children. McCutcheon succeeded in executing this plan, first shooting and killing Terry and, eventually, shooting and killing himself. However, after McCutcheon killed Terry but before he killed himself, Carly arrived on the scene. Carly, who had been dating Terry, approached the front door of her home, rang the doorbell and received no answer. Carly became concerned, placed his hand on the doorknob “in order to enter and the door was suddenly pulled inward by [McCutcheon] who grabbed [Carly] by his shirt and pulled him into the home.” McCutcheon was “screaming, swearing, incoherent, and acting ‘crazy.’” Then, “a fight ensued between the two and at the time, [McCutcheon] continued to have the gun in his hand” which he apparently had used to kill Terry. During this “struggle” between the two men, McCutcheon was “knocking things around, and in the process [he] negligently, carelessly, and recklessly caused the weapon to be fired which struck [Carly] in the face,” causing severe injuries. In addition, “other shots were carelessly, negligently and recklessly fired” by McCutcheon, “striking various parts of the interior of the residence and exiting therefrom.” Carly filed suit against McCutcheon’s estate, and the estate — administered by McCutcheon’s adult children — sought coverage of the lawsuit under two insurance policies issued by Erie to McCutcheon: the Erie Insurance Home Protector Policy (homeowner’s policy) and the Erie Insurance Personal Catastrophe Liability Policy (personal catastrophe policy). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held Carly’s allegations were sufficient to trigger Erie’s duty to defend, and accordingly, affirmed the superior court's order. View "Erie Ins. v. Moore, et al" on Justia Law
Suffolk Constr. v. Reliance Ins.
In 1997, Suffolk Construction Company entered into a contract with the University of Connecticut (“UConn”) for the construction of several buildings on UConn’s campus. UConn secured insurance policies from Reliance Insurance Company for the Project, naming Suffolk (and other contractors) as an insured. Suffolk completed the work in January 2001. The Reliance insurance policy was extended until January 2004. However, in late 2001, however, Reliance went into liquidation. In 2013 and 2014, UConn complained of defects in the construction that resulted in damage to its buildings. UConn initiated legal proceedings against Suffolk and other contractors. In 2016, Suffolk submitted a proof of claim to the Insurance Commissioner of Pennsylvania, as the statutory liquidator of Reliance. At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case involved the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court's interpretation of certain contract language using Connecticut law. The Commonwealth Court found that the language of the contract was clear and unambiguous, thus precluding consideration of extrinsic evidence of the parties’ intent. The Supreme Court determined, however, a Settlement Agreement between the parties could have been construed as nothing more than a mutual general release between UConn and Suffolk: "The ambiguity stems not from Suffolk’s 'subjective perception' of the terms of the Settlement Agreement, but from the terms of the agreement itself, as the language releasing claims for 'insurance coverage' and 'indemnification' does not have a single, clear meaning." As such, the Commonwealth Court erred by failing to consider extrinsic evidence, outside of the terms of the Settlement Agreement, to discern the parties’ intent. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the Commonwealth Court decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "Suffolk Constr. v. Reliance Ins." on Justia Law
Sayles. v. Allstate Ins Co.
This matter came from two separate lawsuits commenced in the Pennsylvania courts of common pleas which were subsequently removed to federal district courts on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, and thereafter consolidated for disposition by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Appellee William Scott was covered by an automobile insurance policy issued by Appellant Travelers Commercial Insurance Company. Appellee Samantha Sayles was covered by an automobile policy issued by Appellant Allstate Insurance Company. Allstate’s policy contained a clause, similar to the one in Scott’s policy, providing that, in order to receive first-party medical benefits, the insured had to submit to mental and physical examinations by physicians selected by the insurance company at the company’s behest before medical benefits were paid. Both appellees were injured in separate car accidents, and their respective insurance companies refused to pay their medical bills. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of Pennsylvania law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Does an automobile insurance policy provision, which required an insured seeking first-party medical benefits under the policy to submit to an independent medical exam whenever the insurer requires and with a doctor selected by the insurer, conflict with 75 Pa.C.S. Section 1796(a) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”), such that the requirement was void as against public policy? After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the provision indeed conflicted with Section 1796(a), and was void as against public policy. View "Sayles. v. Allstate Ins Co." on Justia Law
Barnard v. Travelers Home, et al
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarding whether an increase to the limits of underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage for multiple vehicles that are insured under an existing policy constitutes a “purchase” for purposes of Subsection 1738(c) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). Michelle Barnard purchased a personal automobile policy from Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company (“Travelers”) to insure her two vehicles. As part of this policy, Barnard purchased UIM coverage in the amount of $50,000 per vehicle. Barnard waived stacking of her UIM coverage limits. Two years later, Barnard increased the UIM coverage limit on each of her vehicles to $100,000. Barnard did not execute a new stacking waiver at that time. Then several more years later, Barnard was involved in a motor vehicle accident with an underinsured motorist. When Barnard sought UIM benefits from Travelers, Travelers offered her $100,000 based upon the UIM coverage limit on one of her vehicles. Barnard filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, seeking $200,000 in stacked UIM benefits. Travelers removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Based upon the plain language of Subsection 1738(c), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court answered the Third Circuit's question in the affirmative: therefore, an increase of UIM coverage under circumstances as was presented here triggered an insurance company’s statutory obligation to offer an insured the opportunity to waive stacking of the new, aggregate amount of UIM coverage. View "Barnard v. Travelers Home, et al" on Justia Law