Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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After Murphy Oil sold an oil refinery to Valero, a fire occurred on the property. Valero demanded indemnification from Murphy, and Murphy sought a defense from its general commercial liability insurer, Liberty Mutual. After Liberty Mutual refused, Murphy Oil filed suit for a declaratory judgment and damages. The Eighth Circuit held that the district court properly ruled that there is no possibility that the policy covers the property damage alleged in the complaint, and thus there is no duty to defend. In this case, Unigard Sec. Ins. Co. v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., 962 S.W.2d 735, 740 (Ark. 1998) (Unigard I) controls, because the statute of limitations for tort liability ran before Valero filed its complaint. Furthermore, like in Unigard I, any liability of Murphy Oil in the underlying suit represents the "economic loss" from Murphy Oil's breach of contract and is not covered by the policy. The court also held that the general contract liability exclusion specifically precludes coverage of the breach-of-contract claim, and exceptions to the contractual liability exclusion do not apply. Finally, the court rejected Murphy Oil's "customized" Alienated Premises Endorsement claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Liberty Mutual. View "Murphy Oil Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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After the City hired Henderson to design and install a bio-solids building, panels on the building's roof were damaged during a windstorm. Henderson filed a claim with Travelers, asserting that Travelers was required to cover the roof's damage under the City's builder's risk insurance policy with Travelers. The jury ultimately found in favor of Henderson, awarding damages and fees. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Travelers' motion for judgment as a matter of law, holding that the faulty workmanship exclusion does not include an anticoncurrent-cause provision; the windstorm and faulty workmanship operated in tandem to cause the resulting damage, and thus the windstorm and the faulty workmanship were two independent cause that contributed to the loss; and thus a reasonable juror could have found that faulty workmanship was not the sole proximate cause of the loss. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of Travelers' motion for a new trial or remittitur, holding that the district court did not plainly err in instructing the jury on the issue of proximate cause and the total award was not so excessive as to shock the judicial conscience. View "Joseph J. Henderson & Sons, Inc. v. Travelers Property Casualty Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her ex-husband’s estate alleging that his life insurance proceeds rightly belong to her. The court held that the district court correctly determined that the Interspousal Agreement and the Final Judgment could not be orally amended. The court explained that, by its plain terms, the Interspousal Agreement requires any modification to be in writing and executed with the same formalities as the agreement. In this case, plaintiff had no proof any oral amendment to the Final Judgment related to the policy. Furthermore, New Jersey law automatically revokes the beneficiary designation on divorce unless the "express terms" of a court order say otherwise. Because plaintiff's affidavit cannot change the express terms of a court order and the court order does not expressly mention the policy, summary judgment was appropriate. View "Rose v. Estate of Joel S. Bernstein" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of judgment on the pleadings in favor of the county in a dispute regarding Argonaut's duty to defend the county against a civil rights lawsuit. Under Missouri law, the court held that Argonaut had a duty to defend the county. The court explained that the duty to defend is analyzed by comparing the language of the policy with the allegations in the complaint, and if the complaint alleges facts that merely give rise to a potential claim within coverage, the insurer has a duty to defend. In this case, the county procured insurance to shield itself against, among other things, possible constitutional claims against its officers and agents during the performance of their law enforcement duties. Therefore, there was a covered wrongful act under the policy during the time the policy was in effect. View "Argonaut Great Central Insurance Co. v. Lincoln County" on Justia Law

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After a car accident killed the insured, her mother, and her son, the trustee sought underinsured motorist coverage for the son, who was not named as an insured on the policy. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings to State Farm. The Eighth Circuit had jurisdiction over the appeal because the notice of appeal designated the correct judgment and the parties have addressed the merits of the judgment on the pleadings in their brief. On de novo review, the court held that the son was an insured on the mother's policy and thus was ineligible for excess insurance protection under the insured's policy. View "State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Merrill" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Continental, seeking damages for breach of contract, bad faith, and misrepresentation, and declaratory relief. The district court dismissed all claims, holding that TLC, the registered residential living center plaintiff had moved into, was not a covered provider. The Eighth Circuit applied South Dakota law and considered the interpretation of the Qualified Long Term Care insurance policy de novo, holding that the district court properly granted summary judgment to Continental. In this case, the policy excluded TLC because TLC was not an "assisted living center" under South Dakota law. View "Van Dusseldorp v. Continental Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Owners, which had issued an insurance plan to her father, for underinsured motorist benefits. On Owner's first appeal, the Eighth Circuit held that the district court improperly applied a heightened duty of care to the driver of the vehicle as the designated driver. On remand, the district court stated that it was not applying a heightened standard and did not alter the fault allocation. After careful review, the court was not satisfied that the order on remand eliminated the legal error that this court identified in the original conclusions of law. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded for new findings and conclusions on the allocation of fault. The district judge is no longer in service in the district court and thus the chief judge of the district court should reassign this case for further proceedings. View "Hiltner v. Owners Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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This case arose when plaintiff fell from the trunk of the car that her friend was driving and sustained serious injuries. In a related case, the district court held a bench trial to apportion the fault between the friends involved in the accident. In this case, plaintiff filed suit to recover the portion of the judgment allocated to one of the friends, seeking underinsured motorist benefits for the friend's portion of the judgment. The district court granted Owners' motion for summary judgment. The Eighth Circuit held that removal was not proper under diversity jurisdiction where the parties conceded that the amount in controversy was statutorily insufficient. The court also held that there was no supplemental jurisdiction because this case was a separate action and not another claim in an underlying action over which the federal courts have jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded to the district court with instructions to remand the case to state court. View "Mensah v. Owners Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Russell, Daniel, and Carson co-owned a business. Under a succession plan, the company was to purchase life insurance. If a shareholder died, the company would use the proceeds to buy the deceased shareholder’s stock. Daniel died. The company received insurance proceeds and kept the money. Elizabeth, Daniel’s widow, sued Russell and Carson for conversion and breach of fiduciary duty. A Kansas court issued a judgment against Russell for $822,900.77. Russell and Carson had expected Liberty to defend and indemnify them under their Directors, Officers and Company Liability Coverage and Fiduciary Liability Coverage. Liberty cited a “Personal Profit Exclusion” for claims based upon "gaining ... any profit, remuneration or financial advantage” to which they are “not legally entitled” and a “Contract Exclusion” regarding claims "attributable to any actual or alleged liability under or breach of any contract.” Russell and Carson sued Liberty in Missouri state court for bad-faith. Elizabeth joined the suit. Liberty, a corporate citizen of Massachusetts and Illinois, removed the case to federal court. Russell and Carson sought remand, arguing that in “direct action[s]” against insurers, the insurer takes the citizenship of those it insures, 28 U.S.C. 1332(c)(1); if the Trust’s equitable garnishment claim was a direct action, Liberty shared Russell’s Missouri citizenship. The district court held that the equitable garnishment claim required Russell as a defendant, but Russell’s bad-faith claim required him as a plaintiff. The court severed the suit: Russell and Carson could sue for bad-faith failure to defend and indemnify; the Trust could separately sue Liberty and Russell. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment on the bad faith claim. Because the Missouri statutory claim is not a direct action, complete diversity exists. The district court had jurisdiction over the bad-faith claim. The policy exclusions applied. View "Russell v. Liberty Insurance Underwriters, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that Westfield had a duty to defend its insurer, Miller Architects and Builders, because the claims against Miller in the underlying action did not "clearly" fall outside the scope of coverage. The court held that the alleged damages from the leaky roof were arguably within the policy's scope and there are no clearly applicable exclusions. View "Westfield Insurance Co. v. Miller Architects & Builders" on Justia Law