Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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This case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review claims of breaches of fiduciary duty and legal malpractice against lawyers hired to defend insureds in a civil action where the insurance company provided the defense. The insureds claimed the lawyers failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest based on long-standing relationships the law firm had with the insurance company in not only accepting cases representing insureds in other civil cases, but also representing the insurance company itself in coverage disputes. The insureds also claimed the attorneys failed to advise them of settlement negotiations, and by taking settlement directions from the insurer. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the lawyers, finding the insureds failed to establish an actionable breach. The Court of Appeals affirmed. While the Supreme Court disagreed with portions of the appellate court's analysis, it affirmed the result. View "Arden v. Forsberg & Umlauf, PS" on Justia Law

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This case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review an award of attorney fees against five surety companies following a jury trial for breach of contract in a public works project. The parties litigated the issue of whether three construction firms had defaulted on a contract, thus triggering coverage under a performance bond issued by the surety companies. At issue was whether the existence of a statutory fee provision barred equitable remedies available at common law for coverage disputes and whether the trial court correctly determined that segregation between covered and uncovered fees was impossible. The Court of Appeals affirmed the award of Olympic Steamship fees and held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the fees could not be segregated. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "King County v. Vinci Constr. Grands Projets" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the applicability of a broad, absolute insurance pollution exclusion clause to a claim based on negligent installation of a hot water heater that led to the release of toxic levels of carbon monoxide in a residential home. Zhaoyun "Julia" Xia purchased a new home constructed by Issaquah Highlands 48 LLC. Issaquah Highlands carried a policy of commercial general liability insurance through ProBuilders. Soon after moving into her home, Xia began to feel ill. A service technician from Puget Sound Energy investigated Xia's home and discovered that an exhaust vent attached to the hot water heater had not been installed correctly and was discharging carbon monoxide directly into the confines of the basement room. The claims administrator for ProBuilders, NationsBuilders Insurance Services Inc. (NBIS), mailed a letter to Xia indicating that coverage was not available under the Issaquah Highlands policy. As a basis for its declination of coverage, NBIS rested on two exclusions under the policy: a pollution exclusion and a townhouse exclusion. NBIS refused to either defend or indemnify Issaquah Highlands for Xia's loss. When a nonpolluting event that was a covered occurrence causes toxic pollution to be released, resulting in damages, the Washington Supreme Court believed the only principled way for determining whether the damages are covered or not was to undertake an efficient proximate cause analysis. Under the facts presented here, the Court found ProBuilders Specialty Insurance Co. correctly identified the existence of an excluded polluting occurrence under the unambiguous language of its policy. However, it ignored the existence of a covered occurrence negligent installation-that was the efficient proximate cause of the claimed loss. Accordingly, coverage for this loss existed under the policy, and ProBuilders's refusal to defend its insured was in bad faith. View "Xia v. Probuilders Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In 2007, the legislature passed, and the voters ratified, the Insurance Fair Conduct Act (IFCA), RCW 48.30.015. IFCA gave insureds a new cause of action against insurers who unreasonably deny coverage or benefits. IFCA also directed courts to grant attorney fees and authorizes courts to award triple damages if the insurer either acts unreasonably or violates certain insurance regulations. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether IFCA also created a new and independent private cause of action for violation of these regulations in the absence of any unreasonable denial of coverage or benefits. The Court concluded it did not and affirmed. View "Perez-Crisantos v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co." on Justia Law

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An employee of a nonprofit serving disabled adult clients used her position to embezzle more than half a million dollars held by the nonprofit for its clients. After the embezzlement was discovered, Travelers Casualty & Surety Company, the nonprofit's insurance company, made the nonprofit whole. Travelers then sought contribution from the bank in federal court. By submitting certified questions of Washington law, that court has asked the Washington Supreme Court to decide, among other things, whether a nonpayee's signature on the back of a check was an indorsement. Furthermore, the Court was also asked whether claims based on unauthorized indorsements that are not discovered and reported to a bank within one year of being made available to the customer are time barred. The Supreme Court answered yes to both questions. View "Travelers Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Wash. Trust Bank" on Justia Law

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Kut Suen and May Far Lui (the Luis) owned a building that sustained water damage after a pipe burst while the building was vacant. The Luis' insurance policy for the building limited coverage for water damage based on vacancy: coverage was suspended if the building remained vacant for 60 consecutive days and, effective at the beginning of any vacancy, and there was no coverage for certain specified losses, including water damage. The Luis argued that the policy was ambiguous and should have been interpreted in the Luis' favor to mean that the exclusion of coverage for water damage would commence only after a 60-day vacancy. The Washington Supreme Court rejected the Luis' arguments and found that the policy unambiguously excluded coverage for water damage immediately upon vacancy. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's contrary holding and affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Lui v. Essex Insur. Co." on Justia Law

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Richard and Susan Millies purchased a secluded piece of property in Stevens County overlooking Deer Lake. Their title company overlooked an easement that could have rendered the property far less secluded. The title insurer, LandAmerica Transnation Title Insurance Company, conceded that the easement had been overlooked in the title search and conceded coverage for the omission. After the two sides could not agree on the proper amount of compensation, the Millies sued on a variety of grounds. The jury returned a verdict in favor of LandAmerica, and the Millies appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Millies v. LandAmerica Transnation" on Justia Law

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In 2012, plaintiff Heidi Kroeber was shot outside the Bad Monkey Bar in Kent, Washington by Matthew Atkinson, who was driving an uninsured truck belonging to a friend at the time he opened fire. Plaintiff and her boyfriend had antagonized Atkinson earlier that evening. After pleading guilty to the crime of "Drive-By Shooting," Atkinson claimed that he had not intended to injure anyone and later claimed that he did not know that he was shooting where people were standing. There were factual disputes concerning whether Atkinson's truck was stopped or in motion at the time that he opened fire, and whether he accelerated rapidly away from the scene after the shooting. Plaintiff filed a claim with defendant, GEICO Insurance Company, to recover damages under the UIM coverage provision of her own automobile insurance policy. Under the relevant parts of this policy, GEICO was liable for "damages an insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an underinsured motor vehicle due to: 1. bodily injury sustained by that insured and caused by an accident; and 2. the liability of the owner or operator for these damages must arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the underinsured motor vehicle." GEICO denied plaintiffs claim, asserting that her injuries did not arise out of the use of Atkinson's truck. Plaintiff sued GEICO, claiming that she was entitled to UIM coverage. The case was removed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, and that court certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court: (1) whether an injury to an insured pedestrian "arose out of" the intentional firing of a gun from an uninsured pickup truck; and (2) whether it is material if the shooter intended to harm anyone when firing the gun. The Washington Supreme Court answered the first question by holding that an injury "arises out of' vehicle use so long as some causal connection is present between a condition of, an attachment to, or some aspect of a vehicle and the resulting injury. "The converse is also true-·-an injury does not 'arise out of' vehicle use under circumstances where no such causal connection exists, making the vehicle the mere situs of the accident." The Court answered the second question in the negative. View "Kroeber v. Geico Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Albert Boogaard argued that the comprehensive marine liability insurance policy he purchased from International Marine Underwriters (IMU) for his general partnership, ABCD Marine, covered bodily injuries he suffered while working as an independent contractor for Northland Services Inc. (NSI). Specifically, petitioner claimed that even as a general partner he qualified and was covered as a third party under the "insured contract" provision of the policy. IMU contended that as a general partner and insured, Boogaard was not a third party under the insured contract provision. The Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of IMU. As a general partner, Boogaard did not qualify as a third party under the "insured contract" provision in accordance with Washington partnership law. View "Int'l Marine Underwriters v. ABCD Marine, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Jennifer Mau was convicted of making false insurance claims. She challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented against her at trial. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the State failed to prove the existence of any "contract of insurance" underlying Petitioner's claim. Therefore the Court reversed her conviction. View "Washington v. Mau" on Justia Law