Articles Posted in Wisconsin Supreme Court

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Plaintiff, the insured of Dairyland, sustained bodily injury and property damage while operating his motorcycle. After paying plaintiff all proceeds to which he was entitled under the Dairyland policy, and after plaintiff had settled with the tortfeasor's insurer, Dairyland sought and obtained subrogation from the tortfeasor's insurer for the property damages that it previously paid to plaintiff. Plaintiff then demanded Dairyland pay him the funds it obtained on its subrogation claim. When Dairyland refused, plaintiff filed suit for breach of contract and bad faith. The court concluded that the made whole doctrine does not apply to preclude Dairyland from retaining the funds it received from its subrogation claim because the equities favor Dairyland: (1) Dairyland fully paid plaintiff all he bargained for under his Dairyland policy, which included the policy's limits for bodily injury and 100% of plaintiff's property damage; (2) plaintiff had priority in settling with the tortfeasor's insurer; and (3) if Dairyland had not proceeded on its subrogation claim, plaintiff would have had no access to additional funds from the tortfeasor's insurer. The court also concluded that Dairyland did not act in bad faith. Accordingly, the court reversed the court of appeals decision in all respects. View "Dufour v. Progressive Classic Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Water Well, which was insured under a commercial general liability primary policy (CGL policy) with Consolidated Insurance Company, was sued by Argonaut Insurance Company. The complaint alleged that Water Well and its employees were negligent in the installation and reinstallation of a water pump and breached their contractual obligations. Water Well tendered its defense to its insurer. Consolidated denied Water Well’s defense tender, stating that it had no duty to defend or indemnify Water Well under the CGL policy. After settling with Argonaut, Water Well filed suit against Consolidated, alleging that Consolidated breached its duty to defend Water Well in the action initiated by Argonaut. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Consolidated, concluding that “there is no covered claim and therefore there was no duty to defend.” Applying the four-corners rule, the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Water Well’s request to craft a limited exception to the four-corners rule is rejected; and (2) Consolidated did not breach its duty to defend Water Well because certain exclusions in the CGL policy eliminated coverage. View "Water Well Solutions Serv. Group Inc. v. Consolidated Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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From 2007 to 2009, a number of lawsuits involving Plaintiff, the trustee of two trusts, were filed throughout the country. Plaintiff asked his professional liability insurer, Houston Casualty Company, to defend him in the lawsuits. Houston Casualty determined that it had no obligation to either defend or indemnify Plaintiff in connection with any of the lawsuits. Plaintiff filed a complaint against Houston Casualty alleging, inter alia, breach of the duty to defend and bad faith. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Houston Casualty, concluding that the insurer had not breached its duty to defend Plaintiff. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the complaints and counterclaim against Plaintiff did not allege facts which, if proven, would constitute claims covered under the policy Houston Casualty issued to Plaintiff, and therefore, Houston Casualty did not breach its duty when it refused to defend Plaintiff in the lawsuits at issue. View "Marks v. Houston Cas. Co." on Justia Law

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The complex insurance coverage dispute arose out of a 2007 fire that destroyed portions of a home that was still under construction. Fontana Builders, Inc., the construction contractor, and James and Suzy Accola, the occupants/presumptive purchasers, had separate insurance policies. The Accolas settled with Chubb Insurance Co., the insurer that provided their homeowner’s policy. Assurance Company of America, which had issued a builder’s risk policy to Fontana, denied all coverage for the fire. Fontana commenced this action against Assurance alleging breach of the insurance contract and bad faith failure to pay under the policy. Fontana’s lender, AnchorBank, FSB, eventually intervened. After a retrial, the jury found that the Assurance policy did not provide coverage for Fontana’s fire loss, concluding that the Chubb policy “applied” to the underlying facts so as to terminate Fontana’s builder’s risk coverage. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that that the homeowner’s policy issued by Chubb to the Accolas did not apply so as to terminate Fontana’s builder’s risk policy from Assurance. Remanded. View "Fontana Builders, Inc. v. Assurance Co. of Am." on Justia Law

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Kenneth Burgraff was injured when an employee of Menard, Inc. loaded materials onto Burgraff’s trailer using a forklift. Burgraff sued Menard for damages. Burgraff’s vehicle and trailer were insured under a policy issued by Millers First Insurance Company. Millers First agreed to defend Menard under the policy as a permissive user of Burgraff’s vehicle. Menard was also insured for excess coverage under a commercial general liability policy that included a self-insured retention endorsement. Millers First eventually settled Burgraff’s claim for $40,000, after which Millers First withdrew its defense of Menard. The circuit court determined that Menard’s self-insured retention was “other applicable liability insurance” under the Millers First policy’s “other insurance” clause. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s determination that Menard’s self-insured retention was “other insurance” and reversed the circuit court’s determination that Menard no longer had a duty to defend. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under the terms of the policy, Millers First was required to provide a defense for Menard until it paid its $100,000 limit of liability and breached its duty to defend when it withdrew its defense of Menard; and (2) Menard’s self-insured retention is “other insurance” under the Miller’s First policy’s “other insurance” clause. View "Burgraff v. Menard, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2009, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint against, among other defendants, First American Title Insurance Company, with whom Plaintiffs had a title insurance policy for their property, for failing to defend the title to their property. As part of the settlement between Plaintiffs and defendants John and Jane Stevenson, the Stevensons paid Plaintiffs for an assignment of their rights under the title insurance policy, including any claims against First American. The Stevensons subsequently filed a cross-claim against First American for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty and bad faith for refusing to defend the title to Plaintiffs’ lot. After a jury trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Stevensons and awarded the Stevensons compensatory damages and $1,000,000 in punitive damages to punish First American’s bad faith. The circuit court allowed the bad faith finding and the punitive damages award to stand. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the punitive damages award in this case was excessive and deprived First American of its right to due process, and (2) the appropriate amount of punitive damages in this case was $210,000. View "Kimble v. Land Concepts, Inc." on Justia Law

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John Zeverino owned a semi-tractor that was leased to Taylor Truck Line. In 2009, the tractor was involved in a multi-vehicle accident that occurred while Zeverino was on his way to a maintenance facility for repairs to the tractor. Acceptance Casualty Insurance Company and Great West Casualty Company both issued liability insurance policies for the semi-tractor. Acceptance provided a non-trucking use policy, and Great West provided a commercial truckers’ policy. Each insurer filed a motion for summary judgment asserting the other was responsible for coverage for the accident. The circuit court concluded that the Acceptance policy provided coverage. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Acceptance’s non-trucking use policy provided coverage for the accident, and neither of the two exclusions in Acceptance’s policy precluded coverage. View "Casey v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Ronald Belding was injured in an accident with an uninsured driver. Belding and his wife had two policies with State Farm Automobile Insurance Company, which provided coverage for their two vehicles, a Ford Ranger, which was involved in the accident, and a Mercury Villager. State Farm paid the Beldings the maximum uninsured motorist coverage under the Ford Ranger policy, and the Beldings sought to collect excess damages through the uninsured motorist coverage in their Mercury Villager policy. The circuit court granted summary judgment for State Farm, concluding that a “drive-other-car exclusion” in the Mercury Villager policy precluded coverage. The court of appeals reversed, determining that Wis. Stat. 632.32(6)(d), which prohibited anti-stacking clauses, barred the drive-other-car exclusion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, pursuant to the prohibition on anti-stacking clauses in section 632.32(6)(d), State Farm could not use the drive-other-car exclusion in the Mercury Villager policy to prevent the Beldings from stacking the uninsured motorist coverage of up to three vehicles owned and insured by them. View "Belding v. Demoulin" on Justia Law

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Defendant-sellers obtained a policy from American Family Mutual Insurance Company insuring an apartment building. When preparing for the sale of the building, Defendants signed a real estate condition report stating that they were not aware of the presence of asbestos on the premises. After Plaintiff-buyers purchased the building, their contractor discovered asbestos in the building. Plaintiffs filed an action against Defendants for breach of contract/warranty and negligence in failing to adequately disclose defective conditions. The circuit court held that American Family had no duty to defend or indemnify Defendants because an asbestos exclusion in the American Family policy precluded coverage. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the policy precluded coverage. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the asbestos exclusion in the American Family policy precluded coverage for the losses alleged by Plaintiffs. View "Phillips v. Parmelee" on Justia Law

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Defendant hosted an underage drinking party in which one of the guests known to become belligerent when intoxicated assaulted and seriously injured another guest. The victim sued Defendant and his insurer (Insurer) for damages for his injuries. Insurer disputed coverage, arguing that it had no duty to defend and indemnify Defendant because there was no "accident" or "occurrence" under Defendant's family's homeowner's insurance policy where Defendant's actions were intentional. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Insurer. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that there was an occurrence because the assault was an accident when viewed from the standpoint of the injured person or Defendant, the insured. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) viewed from the standpoint of a reasonable insured, Defendant's intentional actions in setting up a drinking party and procuring alcohol for underage guests, including one known to become belligerent when intoxicated, created a direct risk of harm resulting in bodily injury; and (2) thus, the victim's bodily injury was not caused by an "occurrence" within the meaning of the policy, and Insurer was not obligated to provide insurance coverage for Defendant. View "Schinner v. Gundrum" on Justia Law