Justia Insurance Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
Bonner County v. Western Insurance Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that Bonner County, an Idaho political subdivision, had failed to demonstrate to Western Insurance Company's Liquidator that Pend Oreille Bonner Development LLC's failure to complete several municipal projects had cost it anything, holding that the court's finding were not against the clear weight of the evidence.Bonner County contracted with Pend Oreille to construct the projects at issue and required Pend Oreille to obtain multiple surety bonds, which Pend Oreille purchased through Western. Pend Oreille defaulted on the projects. Bonner County filed a claim with the Liquidator of Western, which had been placed in liquidation, to recover the surety bonds. The district court entered judgment against Bonner County. The Supreme Court affirmed across the Board, holding that the district court did not err when it (1) admitted extrinsic evidence to determine the parties' intent; (2) read the statute to provide that a liquidator can amend a determination of claims in response to charged circumstances; and (3) made its findings. View "Bonner County v. Western Insurance Co." on Justia Law
UMIA Insurance, Inc. v. Saltz
Saltz, a plastic surgeon, was sued by a former patient for releasing her photographs to a news outlet. Saltz submitted his legal defense to his malpractice insurance provider, UMIA, which initially defended Saltz but sought a declaratory judgment, claiming that Saltz lacked insurance coverage for the former patient’s claims. The district court found that Saltz was not covered under the plain language of the policy and dismissed his claim for waiver and his request for punitive damages but denied UMIA’s motion for judgment as a matter of law and allowed Saltz’s promissory estoppel and breach of the duty of good faith claims. Over UMIA’s objections, the court also allowed evidence from a settlement negotiation to be presented to the jury, which found in favor of Saltz on both claims.The Utah Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings on Saltz’s requests for punitive damages and for attorney fees incurred on appeal. The district court properly allowed Saltz’s claims for promissory estoppel and breach of the duty of good faith to go to the jury; the court was correct to deny UMIA’s motion for a new trial on the claim for breach of the duty of good faith. The court upheld the admission of evidence from the settlement talks. The district court erred in dismissing Saltz’s claims for waiver and for punitive damages. View "UMIA Insurance, Inc. v. Saltz" on Justia Law
Drew v. Pacific Life Insurance Co.
The Supreme Court vacated the determination of the court of appeals that R. Scott National, Inc. (RSN) was an "agent" of Pacific Life Insurance Company (Pacific Life) based on Utah Code 31A-1-301(88)(b), and therefore granting partial summary judgment to Plaintiffs on their claim that Pacific Life should be held liable for RSN's alleged misdeeds, holding that remand was required.The district court granted summary judgment to Pacific Life, concluding that nothing RSN did was within the actual or apparent authority Pacific Life granted RSN. The court of appeals reversed and granted partial summary judgment for Plaintiffs, holding that RSN was Pacific Life's agent and that RSN's actions fell within the scope of authority Pacific Life had granted RSN. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment below, holding that the court of appeals (1) erred in ruling that section 31A-1-301(88)(b) made RSN an agent of Pacific Life and in injecting respondeat superior principles into Utah Code 31A-23a-405(2); and (2) Plaintiffs were entitled to the entry of partial summary judgment on the issue of RSN's apparent authority from Pacific Life. View "Drew v. Pacific Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law
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