Justia Insurance Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
Espensched Transport Corp. v. Fleetwood Services, Inc.
In this insurance dispute brought by Espenschied Transport Corp., the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to Fleetwood Services, Inc. and Wilshire Insurance Company.Espenschied used Fleetwood to procure insurance. In 2003, Fleetwood obtained an insurance policy from Wilshire meant to cover all of Espenschied’s vehicles and trailers, but Fleetwood gave Wilshire an incorrect list not containing all of Espenschied’s insured vehicles. Therefore, Espenschied believed that certain equipment was covered by the insurance policy when, in fact, it was not. One of Espenschied’s trailers that was not on the policy schedule was involved in a deadly accident. In the resulting litigation, Wilshire refused to defend Espenschied, causing Espenschied to incur a consent judgment and attorney fees. Espenschied subsequently sued Fleetwood and Wilshire. In granting summary judgment, the district court concluded (1) Espenschied had suffered no damages; and (2) the trailer was not on Wilshire’s insurance policy and Fleetwood was not Wilshire’s agent, and Wilshire could have no vicarious liability because Fleetwood had no liability. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Espenschied was unable to raise a dispute of material fact as to damages; and (2) Espenschied failed to argue why Wilshire should have vicarious liability when Fleetwood had no liability. View "Espensched Transport Corp. v. Fleetwood Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Fire Insurance Exchange v. Oltmanns
The court of appeals did not err in concluding that the denial of Robert Oltmanns’ insurance claim by his insurer, Fire Insurance Exchange, was “fairly debatable,” thus negating Oltmanns’ demand for attorney fees and expenses for a coverage dispute and appeal.When Oltmanns was named as a defendant in a personal injury case he filed a claim with Fire Insurance. Fire Insurance brought a declaratory judgment action to determine whether the claim was covered under Oltmanns’ policy. The court of appeals ruled that the claim was covered. Oltmanns, in turn, filed a counterclaim seeking attorney fees for the declaratory judgment action on the grounds that it was brought in bad faith. The district court granted summary judgment for Fire Insurance, finding that the insurer’s actions were reasonable because the coverage issue was “fairly debatable.” The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the coverage question was, indeed, fairly debatable. View "Fire Insurance Exchange v. Oltmanns" on Justia Law
Fire Insurance Exchange v. Oltmanns
The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals’ decision to uphold the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Fire Insurance Exchange in this dispute over attorneys fees.In the underlying action, Fire Insurance’s action sought a declaratory judgment to determine whether the claim filed by Insured, who was named as a defendant in a personal injury case, was covered under Insured’s policy. The court of appeals ultimately held that the claim was covered. Insured filed a counterclaim seeking attorney fees for the declaratory judgment action, arguing that it was brought in bad faith. The district court concluded that Fire Insurance’s denial of Insured’s claim was reasonable because the coverage issue was “fairly debatable.” The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Insured’s claim that Fire Insurance did not fairly evaluate his claim and unreasonably rejected it failed. Therefore, summary judgment was properly granted to Fire Insurance. View "Fire Insurance Exchange v. Oltmanns" on Justia Law
Dircks v. Travelers Indemnity Co. of America
The terms of Utah Code 31A-22-305.3 requires that all vehicles covered under the liability provisions of an automobile insurance policy must also be covered under the underinsured motorist provisions of that policy, and with equal coverage limits, unless a named insured waives the coverage by signing an acknowledgment form meeting certain statutory requirements.When Derek Dircks and Michael Riley suffered injuries in a car accident they were in Riley’s personal vehicle on an assignment for their employer, Mid-State Consultants, Inc. Dircks and his wife (together, Plaintiffs) sought underinsured motorist benefits under Mid-State’s commercial insurance policy with Travelers Indemnity Company of America. The policy included liability coverage for persons driving in either a Mid-State fleet vehicle or a vehicle owned by a Mid-State employee when used for Mid-State Business. The policy also included underinsured motorist coverage but purported to limit this coverage to persons driving in Mid-State fleet vehicles. Travelers denied Plaintiffs’ claim, and Plaintiffs filed suit. The federal district court certified to the Supreme Court the question of whether state law requires that all vehicles for which Mid-State had purchased liability coverage be covered to the same extent under Mid-State’s underinsured motorist coverage. The Supreme Court answered the certified question in the affirmative. View "Dircks v. Travelers Indemnity Co. of America" on Justia Law
Wilson v. Educators Mutual Insurance Ass’n
In this subrogation action filed by Educators Mutual Insurance Association (EMIA) against a tortfeasor in a personal injury case, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ dismissal for lack of standing. The court of appeals ruled that an insurer may file suit for subrogation only in the name of its insured, and not in its own name. The Supreme Court upheld EMIA’s standing to sue for subrogation in its own name under the terms of the insurance policy where the terms of the insurance policy at issue in this case expressly recognized EMIA’s authority “to pursue its own right of subrogation against a third party” without regard to whether the insured “is made whole by any recovery.” View "Wilson v. Educators Mutual Insurance Ass’n" on Justia Law
Truck Insurance Exchange v. Rutherford
The Supreme Court held that, under Utah Code 31A-22-305.3, a underinsured motorist (UIM) insurer must fully compensate its insured within its policy limits but only for damages in excess of what was paid by workers’ compensation so as to avoid an inappropriate double recovery. Danny Rutherford, who was injured when the work van he was driving was hit by another vehicle, sought double recovery from his employer’s workers’ compensation insurer and Truck Insurance Exchange, which provided Rutherford’s employer with underinsured motorist coverage. The district court granted summary judgment for Rutherford. In light of its holding, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Truck Insurance Exchange v. Rutherford" on Justia Law
Compton v. Houston Casualty Co.
At issue in this appeal was the scope of the “covered profession” clause of a professional liability errors and omissions insurance policy issued to Utah County Real Estate, LLC (Prudential) by Houston Casualty Company. While working as a real estate agent for Prudential, Robert Seegmiller engaged in a professional relationship with the plaintiffs in this action (collectively, Investors) on a real estate deal that went sour. The Investors obtained a judgment against Seegmiller for negligence. Rather than execute the judgment against Seegmiller, the Investors settled with him, acquiring any claims he might have against Prudential’s insurer, Houston Casualty. The Investors then brought this action alleging that Houston Casualty breached the policy by failing to defend and indemnify Seegmiller. The district court granted summary judgment for Houston Casualty. The Supreme Court affirmed on the ground that Seegmiller’s conduct in the transaction was not covered by the policy because he was not providing services “for a fee” in the transaction. View "Compton v. Houston Casualty Co." on Justia Law
Lancer Insurance Co. v. Lake Shore Motor Coach Lines, Inc.
Debra Jarvis was driving a bus owned by Lake Shore Motor Coach Lines, Inc. when she experienced a sudden and unforeseeable loss of consciousness. Her loss of consciousness caused the bus to roll over, injuring several passengers. Some of the injured passengers filed separate lawsuits in a Utah court seeking damages. Two of the plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment, asserting that Lancer Insurance Co., Lake Shore’s insurer, was strictly liable for the passengers’ injuries under Utah Code 31A-22-303(1). The motions were denied. Lancer Insurance filed a separate federal case seeking a declaratory judgment confirming the state district court’s interpretation of Utah Code section 31A-22-303(1), thus reinforcing the conclusion that this provision preserves the common-law “sudden incapacity” defense and requires proof of fault to sustain liability. The federal district court certified two questions to the Supreme Court regarding the proper interpretation of section 31A-22-303(1). The Supreme Court answered (1) section 31A-22-303(1) overrules the common-law doctrine of sudden incapacity in a manner imposing strict liability on a driver (and her insurer); and (2) a driver (and her insurer) is subject to liability only up to the amount of the insurance coverage available under an applicable policy. View "Lancer Insurance Co. v. Lake Shore Motor Coach Lines, Inc." on Justia Law
Heslop v. Bear River Mutual Insurance Co.
Natalie Heslop overdosed on prescription drugs. The next day, Natalie rolled her truck down an embankment. Natalie informed the responding police officer, medical personnel, her family, and an insurance adjuster that the accident had been a suicide attempt. Natalie’s insurance policy provided that it would exclude coverage to any injured person “if the person’s conduct contributed to his injury…by intentionally causing injury to himself.” Natalie and her husband, Brandon Heslop, attempted to collect from Bear River Mutual Insurance Company under both a personal injury protection claim for Natalie’s personal injuries and a property damage claim for damage to the truck. Bear River denied the claims based on Natalie's admission that she intended to drive down the embankment. The Heslops subsequently filed a complaint against Bear River. The district court granted summary judgment to Bear River as to both the personal injury claim and the property damage claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on the Heslops’ claims. View "Heslop v. Bear River Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Snyder v. Hertzske
At issue in this case was (1) how Utah Code 30-3-5(1)(e) should be interpreted in correlation with Utah Code 75-2-804, and (2) the proper interpretation of “express terms” in section 75-2-804(2). Tyler Hertzske and Linda Snyder each claimed sole entitlement to the death benefits of a life insurance policy held by Edward Hertzske, deceased. The district court granted summary judgment to Tyler, concluding that Tyler was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In so holding, the judge concluded (1) where section 30-3-5(1)(e) was not considered or included in the divorce proceedings, it did not apply, and (2) the Policy did not contain “express terms” that would except it from revocation under section 75-2-804(2). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 75-2-804(2) creates a rebuttable presumption that a beneficiary designation in a life insurance policy is revoked upon divorce; (2) section 30-3-5(1)(e) does not apply in this instance, and, rather, section 75-2-804 governs; (3) a life insurance policy must contain “express terms” referring to divorce in order for the beneficiary designation of a former spouse to survive revocation by section 75-2-804(2); and (4) the Policy did not contain “express terms” that would except it from revocation under section 75-2-804(2). View "Snyder v. Hertzske" on Justia Law