Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Transportation 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

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In 2007, while operating a truck, Yelder, an employee of Yelder-N-Son Trucking, collided with a Tri-National truck, causing extensive property damage. Tri-National filed a claim with its insurer, Harco, which paid $91,100 and retained a subrogation interest. Yelder was insured by Canal with an MCS-90 endorsement, mandated by the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, 94 Stat. 793. In 2010, Canal sought a declaratory judgment against the Yelder defendants and Harco. An Alabama court entered default judgment against the Yelder defendants only, stating Canal had no duty to defend or indemnify them under the Canal policy. The court made no declaration about whether the MCS-90 endorsement requires a tortfeasor’s insurer to compensate an injured party when the injured party has already been compensated by its own insurer. Tri-National then sued the Yelders in Missouri and obtained a $91,100 default judgment. Tri-National sought equitable garnishment against Canal, apparently on behalf of Harco. Canal removed the action to the federal district court, which granted Tri-National’s motion. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that the MCS-90 does require such compensation. The circumstance of Tri-National carrying its own insurance did not absolve Canal of its obligations under the endorsement View "Tri-National, Inc. v. Canal Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Bennett was walking her dog in Garfield Heights, Ohio when she was struck on the left knee by a vehicle driven by Pastel. The accident threw Bennett onto the car’s hood. Bennett sued Pastel’s insurer, State Farm, which characterized as “ridiculous” her assertion that she was an “occupant” of the car, as that term is defined by State Farm’s policy, at the time she was on the vehicle’s hood. The district court granted summary judgment to State Farm. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The policy defines “occupying” as “in, on, entering or alighting from.” The court stated that “we have no reason to explore Bennett’s relationship with the car… the policy marks out its zone of coverage in primary colors.” View "Bennett v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins." on Justia Law

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In the early morning hours of April 11, 2008, Jeremy Rustad and Heidi Hanna were killed in a plane crash in McLean County. Rustad was piloting his Cessna aircraft and Hanna was a passenger when the plane crashed. The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable causes of the accident were due to pilot error and pilot impairment due to alcohol. The estate published a notice to creditors of Rustad for three successive weeks beginning May 22, 2008, informing them they had three months to file claims. On September 24, 2008, Olson, as "co-personal representative of the estate of Heidi Hanna, deceased, caretaker of [B.H.], a minor, and temporary guardian of [B.H.], a minor," filed a claim against the estate asserting the estate was indebted to Hanna's estate and to Hanna's children. The estate "disallowed" Olson's claim. In early 2009, Olson filed this wrongful death and survival action against the estate. The estate moved for summary judgment dismissing the action. The estate argued Olson's claims were barred because she did not serve the personal representative in that capacity and the failure to present her claims in the probate action made them res judicata. The estate also argued Olson could not show Hanna was injured before Rustad died, and therefore, both the wrongful death and survivor claims were barred under the nonclaim provisions of the Probate Code. The district court rejected the estate's arguments that service of process was insufficient and that the action was barred by res judicata. The court concluded Olson presented no evidence to show Hanna died before Rustad, and dismissed the wrongful death and survival actions because they were barred by the nonclaim provisions of the Probate Code. The district court further noted Rustad had an aircraft insurance policy and the nonclaim provisions did not prevent Olson from recovering to the extent of insurance coverage available for the accident. The court ruled the language in the insurance policy unambiguously limited coverage under the circumstances to $103,000, and a judgment was entered in favor of Olson for $103,000. The Estate appealed; the Supreme Court, after review of the trial court record, affirmed. View "Olson v. Estate of Rustad" on Justia Law

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TAMS, a medical device manufacturer, hired Comtrans to coordinate shipment of equipment to a trade show in Chicago. Comtrans is not a carrier. It used its affiliate, ACS, which retained Atlas to perform the actual shipment. The Atlas truck was involved in a serious accident, leaving TAMS with more than $1 million in losses. TAMS’s insurance company sued on behalf of TAMS. Atlas is an interstate motor carrier authorized by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to transport goods in interstate commerce. Claims are subject to the Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. 14706, which provides that a carrier of property in interstate commerce is liable for the actual loss or injury to the property caused b” the carrier, which may be limited “to a value established by written or electronic declaration of the shipper or by written agreement between the carrier and shipper if that value would be reasonable under the circumstances.” Atlas relied on the contract it had in place with ACS and the bill of lading delivered signed by a Comtrans warehouse manager when Atlas picked up TAMS’s shipment, as limiting liability to $0.60 per pound. The district court entered summary judgment for Atlas. The Seventh Circuit remanded for further development of the facts. View "Nipponkoa Ins. Co., L v. Atlas Van Lines, Inc." on Justia Law