Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Transportation Law
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In November 2021, David Goyco was struck and injured by an automobile while operating a low-speed electric scooter (LSES). Goyco filed a claim for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits under his personal automobile policy with Progressive Insurance Company. Progressive denied the claim, arguing that Goyco's LSES did not meet the definition of an "automobile" and that Goyco could not be considered a "pedestrian" under the New Jersey Automobile Reparation Reform Act, commonly known as the No-Fault Act. Goyco filed a complaint, asserting that LSES riders should be considered "pedestrians" entitled to PIP benefits under the No-Fault Act. The trial court denied relief to Goyco, and the Appellate Division affirmed.The Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The court held that an LSES rider does not fall within the definition of "pedestrian" for purposes of the No-Fault Act. The court found that Goyco's LSES was a "vehicle" that used a rechargeable electric motor and was therefore "propelled by other than muscular power" and was "designed for use on highways, rails and tracks." The court also rejected Goyco's reliance on a 2019 statute that provides that an LSES should be considered equivalent to a bicycle, stating that the statute was not intended to have any effect on the No-Fault Act. The court concluded that Goyco was not a pedestrian entitled to PIP benefits under Progressive's No-Fault insurance policy. View "Goyco v. Progressive Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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In this case, a woman was severely injured while moving an inoperable airplane owned by her husband. She sought recovery from her husband's homeowner's insurance policy. The insurance policy, however, excluded injuries "arising out of" the ownership, maintenance, use, loading or unloading of an aircraft. The woman argued that the policy should cover her injury because, in her view, the aircraft had become mere "parts" after her husband removed the wings, elevators, and tail rudder. The lower court disagreed and concluded that her injuries were not covered by the policy. The woman appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska agreed with the lower court’s interpretation of the homeowner's insurance policy exclusion. The court maintained that regardless of whether the airplane was considered an aircraft or a collection of airplane “parts” when it injured the woman, the injury arose out of the husband’s ownership of the airplane. This interpretation was supported by the clear language of the policy which excluded coverage for bodily injury arising out of ownership or maintenance of an aircraft. As a result, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision. View "Thompson v. United Services Automobile Association" on Justia Law

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CSX Transportation, Inc. is a freight railroad company. General Mills, Inc. operates a cereal processing plant in Georgia near one of CSX’s rail lines. A small connecting railroad connects CSX’s main rail line to General Mills’s plant. A contract between CSX and General Mills governs the use of the sidetrack.A General Mills employee suffered severe injuries while working on the sidetrack and then sued CSX for negligence. A jury found CSX liable, and CSX sought indemnification from General Mills, citing a contractual provision providing General Mills was required to indemnify CSX—regardless of whether CSX alone was responsible. The district court dismissed one of CSX’s breach-of-contract claims and granted General Mills summary judgment on the other.The Eleventh Circuit found that, under the parties’ agreement, General Mills was not required to indemnify CSX if CSX was solely negligent. However, the court disagreed with the district court that Georgia's vouchment doctrine barred CSX from litigating the issue of General Mills’s negligence. Thus, the Eleventh Circuit remanded for the district court to determine if General Mills was at least partially at fault for the injury. If so, then General Mills must indemnify CSX for at least a portion of the settlement and related expenses. View "CSX Transportation, Inc. v. General Mills, Inc." on Justia Law

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Humphrey was a Riteway driver. His trips began in Illinois, often ending in another state. In 2013 Humphrey drove a truck to Indiana. After he delivered the freight, Riteway directed him to another site in Fort Wayne. While driving to the pickup site, Humphrey’s truck collided with Wright's car. After cooperating with the police, Humphrey picked up his load and delivered it to Illinois. Wright sued Riteway in Indiana state court and obtained a default judgment. Riteway's Prime Insurance policy contained an endorsement that provides payments to an injured party even when the insurer need not defend or indemnify its client. A federal court determined that Riteway had forfeited the benefit of Prime’s policy but reserved questions about whether Wright could recover under the endorsement. The Indiana judiciary declined to allow Prime to attack the default judgment.Prime sought a declaratory judgment that the endorsement did not apply. The endorsement applies to any judgment “resulting from negligence ... subject to the financial responsibility requirements of Sections 29 and 30 of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980.” Those statutes have been repealed but the parties stipulated that 49 U.S.C. 31139(b)(1) applies and provides that all motor freight transportation from a place in one state to a place in another is covered. The district court ordered Prime to pay. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Humphrey was engaged in interstate freight transportation under the statutory definition regardless of intent, whether a truck was carrying freight, or the “totality” of the circumstances. View "Prime Insurance Co. v. Wright" on Justia Law

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In this insurance dispute, the Supreme Court held that the MCS-90 endorsement, which provides that if a motor vehicle is involved in an accident the insurer may be required to pay any final judgment against the insured arising out of the accident, does not apply to an accident that occurred during an intrastate trip transporting non-hazardous property.One way motor carries can comply with the financial requirements of the federal Motor Carrier Act of 1980 is by adding an MCS-90 endorsement to their insurance policy. The insurer in this case brought an action seeking a declaration that the MCS-90 endorsement creating a suretyship whereby the insurer agreed to pay a final judgment against the insured in certain negligence cases did not apply. The trial court found that the MCS-90 endorsement applied, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because the insured driver was neither engaged in interests commerce at the time of the action nor transporting hazardous property, the MCS-90 endorsement did not apply; and (2) the insurer had no duty to defend or indemnify the driver. View "Progressive Southeastern Insurance Co. v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a federal regulation does not impose a duty on insurers to issue policies that satisfy a motor carrier's minimum level of financial responsibility because compliance with the financial responsibility requirements under Neb. Rev. Stat. 75-363 and the pertinent federal regulations is the duty of the motor carrier and not its insurer.Through Neb. Rev. Stat. 75-363 the Nebraska Legislature adopted several parts of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and made those regulations applicable to certain intrastate motor carriers otherwise not subject to the federal regulations. One of the federal regulations adopted by section 75-363(3)(d) sets out minimum levels of financial responsibility for motor carriers. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether 49 C.F.R. 387 imposes a duty on an insurer to issue a policy with liability limits that satisfy the motor carrier's financial responsibility. The Supreme Court held that compliance with section 75-363 and section 387 is the responsibility of the motor carrier, not on the insurer. View "Shelter Insurance Co. v. Gomez" on Justia Law

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One night in February 2014 Carlile Transportation Systems, Inc. driver Bart Neal was driving a tractor-trailer southbound on the Dalton Highway. Neal could not steer properly at speeds above 35 miles per hour and decided to stop to put chains on his tires, partially blocking both traffic lanes, and, by his account, activated his flashers. Neal did not deploy reflective triangles. Eggor Enterprises, Inc. driver Joe Seurer was hauling a load of fuel northbound. By his account, Seurer saw lights in the distance but could not determine what they were. Seurer slowed his tractor-trailer from 50 to 35 miles per hour. About three-quarters of a mile from Neal, Seurer again saw lights and thought they might be from a pipeline maintenance truck stopped off the side of the road. He did not see reflective triangles or flashers. The road had an S-curve between Seurer and Neal. Until Seurer rounded the final curve, he did not realize Neal’s rig was blocking the road. Seurer applied his brakes about 300 feet from Neal, avoiding a serious collision but causing Seurer’s trailer to fall onto the side of the highway. The trailer’s fuel load spilled alongside the road. Eggor Enterprises’s insurer, HDI-Gerling American Insurance Company (HDI), paid over $3.5 million in cleanup costs to remediate the spill. HDI-Gerling, as subrogee of its trucking company client, sued Carlile for negligence. After a trial the jury determined that Carlile company’s driver was not negligent and returned a defense verdict. The insurance company appealed some of the superior court’s trial rulings. Seeing no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s entry of final judgment. View "HDI-Gerling America Insurance Company v. Carlile Transportation Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2011, Linda Phillips, an employee of Hoker Trucking, driving a semi‐truck in Indiana, struck a vehicle driven by Robbins, who died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident. The truck driven by Phillips was pulling a trailer Hoker borrowed from Lakeville. Lakeville had a Great West Casualty insurance policy covering the trailer. There was a separate suit concerning the liability of Phillips and Hoker. To preempt a possible claim against Lakeville’s policy, Great West sought a declaratory judgment against Hoker, Phillips, and Robbins’s estate, that it did not have to indemnify Hoker and Phillips for any liability in connection with the accident. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Great West. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that Great West’s policy was ambiguous as to whether Hoker and Phillips were excluded from coverage and should be construed against Great West; that even if the exclusions are not ambiguous, they do not exclude Hoker and Phillips from coverage; and regardless of whether the exclusions apply to Hoker and Phillips or not, such exclusions are invalid under Wisconsin law, the state where the trailer is registered. The court found the policy unambiguous. View "Great West Cas. Co. v. Robbins" on Justia Law

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Stampley, an independent truck driver, sued Altom Transport, alleging that Altom had failed to pay him enough for driving his truck for it. Altom turned to its insurer, Westchester, for coverage in the suit. Westchester denied coverage; Altom handled its own defense; and the parties tried to settle. At that point, counsel for both Stampley and Altom tried to pull Westchester into the case, by making settlement offers within the limits of the Westchester policy and seeking Westchester’s approval. Westchester did not participate. Altom sought a declaratory judgment establishing that Westchester had a duty to defend, that it wrongfully had failed to do so, and that its handling of the matter had been unreasonable and vexatious. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the suit, finding that all of the claims in the underlying suit arise directly from Stampley’s lease agreement with Altom and fell within the policy’s contract claim exception. View "Stampley v. Westchester Fire Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Illinois requires that motor carriers of property, conducting intrastate operations, obtain a license from the Illinois Commerce Commission, which requires appropriate insurance or surety coverage. A carrier complies by submitting proof of insurance or bond coverage and is then issued a public carrier certificate, stating that the holder “certifies to the Commission that it will perform transportation activities only with the lawful amount of liability insurance in accordance with 92 Ill. Admin. Code 1425.” Drivers must have a copy of the license with them at all times. It is a Class C misdemeanor offense for an operator not to produce proof of registration upon request. Three carriers were cited by the ICC police for conducting regulated activity without a license. During a follow-up investigation, the carriers refused to comply, reasoning that documents sought by the ICC would reveal their rates, routes, and services, so the requirement was preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, 49 U.S.C. 14501(c). The ICC rejected the argument. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the ICC, concluding that the document requests had no significant economic impact on rates, routes or services and, alternatively, that efforts to enforce the licensing requirement are exempted from preemption. View "Nationwide Freight Sys., Inc. v. Ill. Commerce Comm'n" on Justia Law