Justia Insurance Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Wisconsin Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court directing a verdict in favor of Defendant, an insurance agent, on Plaintiff's claim that Defendant was negligent because he procured an insurance policy that did not conform to Plaintiff's requirements, holding that Plaintiff must prove that it would have qualified for an insurance policy with better terms than the policy it actually obtained.Plaintiff sold new and used camper trailers. Plaintiff asked Defendant, an insurance agent, to acquire a policy to cover its camper inventory. Plaintiff thought Defendant had acquired a policy with a deductible for $1,000 per camper in the event of hail damage with a $5,000 aggregate deductible limit, but the policy actually required a $5,000 deductible per camper, with no aggregate limit. After a hailstorm damaged many of the campers on its lot, Plaintiff sued Defendant. The circuit court directed a verdict due to Plaintiff's failure to introduce evidence that an insurer would have insured Plaintiff with the deductible limits it thought it had. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff must not only prove that an insurance policy with the requested deductibles was commercially available but that Plaintiff would actually have qualified for that policy. View "Emer's Camper Corral, LLC v. Western Heritage Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals applying a constructive trust to proceeds Lynnea Landsee-Pulkkila collected from a life insurance policy maintained by her late husband, James Pulkkila, holding that the court of appeals erred in imposing a constructive trust absent findings of fact that would support such an imposition.In 2009, James and Joan Pulkkila divorced. In their marital settlement agreement (MSA) that was incorporated into the judgment of divorce James and Joan were required to maintain life insurance with their children as beneficiaries. In 2013, James and Lynnea were married. The following year, James submitted a beneficiary name change asking that Lynnea be made the sole beneficiary of the life insurance policy. After Lynnea was paid the proceeds of the policy, Joan asserted that James breached the MSA agreement and that a constructive trust should be placed on the proceeds. The circuit court denied Joan's motion for a constructive trust. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that equity required the imposition of a constructive trust. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erroneously exercised its discretion because it determined that a constructive trust was appropriate in the absence of an evidentiary hearing and resulting relevant factual findings. View "Pulkkila v. Pulkkila" on Justia Law

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In this insurance coverage duty-to-defend dispute the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the circuit court's judgment denying the motion for attorney fees filed by the Germantown School District Board of Education and Germantown School District (collectively, the School District), holding that the School District's insurers (Insurer) did not breach the duty to defend the School District in a lawsuit brought by retired employees.In seeking attorney fees, the School Board argued that its Insurer should pay all of the attorney fees incurred by the School District in the underlying lawsuit as a remedy for its breach of the duty to defend the School District. The Supreme Court held (1) the Insurer's initial denial of the School District's tendered claim did not breach its duty to defend when the Insurer followed a judicially preferred method for determining coverage; (2) a delay in payment of liability attorney fees alone does not mean an insurer breached its duty to defend; and (3) the four-corners rule applies in determining whether a duty to defend exists but does not preclude a court's consideration of certain factors in assessing whether an insurer breached its duty to defend. View "Choinsky v. Germantown School District Board of Education" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the circuit court striking two insurance conditions from a conditional use permit (CUP) Dane County issued to Enbridge Energy Company as unenforceable under 2015 Wisconsin Act 55, holding that because Enbridge carried the requisite insurance, Act 55 rendered Dane County's extra insurance conditions unenforceable.The two conditions at issue required Enbridge to procure additional insurance prior to Enbridge expanding its pipeline pump station. Dane County approved the CUP with these insurance conditions. Thereafter, the Wisconsin Legislature passed Act 55, which prohibits counties from requiring an interstate pipeline operator to obtain additional insurance when the pipeline operating company carries comprehensive general liability insurance with coverage for "sudden and accidental" pollution liability. Dane County issued the CUP with the invalid insurance conditions. The circuit court struck the two conditions from the CUP as unenforceable under Act 55. The court of appeals reversed on the ground that Enbridge failed to show it carried the requisite coverage triggering the statutory prohibition barring the County from imposing additional insurance procurement requirements. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Enbridge carried the requisite insurance, and therefore, Dane County's extra insurance conditions were unenforceable. View "Enbridge Energy Co. v. Dane County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment dismissing Rural Mutual Insurance Company's subrogation claims pursuant to a subrogation waiver, holding that the subrogation waiver was valid and enforceable.Rural Mutual brought this action against Lester Buildings, LLC, Phoenix Insurance Company, Van Wyks, Inc., and West Bend Mutual Insurance Company after a barn collapsed due to strong winds and Rural Mutual paid more than $650,000 to the barn owner, Jim Herman, Inc. (Herman). The circuit court concluded that the claims were barred pursuant to a subrogation waiver contained in Lester Buildings' contract with Herman, Rural Mutual's insured, and further concluded that Wis. Stat. 895.447 did not void that subrogation waiver. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 895.447 did not void the subrogation waiver in the contract because the waiver did not limit or eliminate tort liability; and (2) the subrogation waiver was not an unenforceable exculpatory contract contrary to public policy. View "Rural Mutual Insurance Co. v. Lester Buildings, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals reversing the circuit court's order that determined that Plaintiffs' claims against Defendant-insurance company were barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion, holding that claim preclusion barred the claims of certain plaintiffs, but the Court was evenly divided as to whether claim preclusion barred the claims brought by a fourth plaintiff.This case arose from a car accident in which a mother and her three daughters were seriously injured. The father was not in the car. The accident resulted in two separate lawsuits. In the first action, the mother brought a negligence claim against the driver of the other vehicle and her insurer, State Farm. The children were also named as plaintiffs. The action settled. The second lawsuit brought by the family, including the father, alleging that the driver of the car in which they were passengers was negligent. Plaintiffs sued the driver's insurer directly. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Defendant, concluding that the action was barred by claim preclusion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court held (1) claim preclusion barred the claims brought by the mother and daughters in the second action; but (2) the court of appeals properly allowed the father's claims to proceed. View "Teske v. Wilson Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of Hiscox Insurance Company on Leicht Transfer & Storage Company's complaint seeking coverage for its losses under a commercial crime insurance policy issued to it by Hiscox, holding that Leicht's losses were not covered under the policy.Pallet Central Enterprises, Inc. forged delivery tickets and used them to bill Leicht for the sale and delivery of pallets that Pallet Central never sold or delivered. Leicht sought coverage for its losses under the policy issued to it by Hiscox. Hiscox denied coverage. Leicht sued for breach of contract, arguing that the forged delivery tickets comprised "directions to pay" within the meaning of the "forgery or alteration" insuring agreement of the Hiscox policy. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Hiscox, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the delivery tickets did not qualify as "written...directions to pay a sum certain in money"; and (2) the policy did not provide coverage for forged documents that were not themselves "directions to pay," but which were used as proxies for such documents. View "Leicht Transfer & Storage Co. v. Pallet Central Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals ruling that the allegations in Abbott Laboratories’ complaint against Ixthus Medical Supply, Inc. alleged a potentially covered advertising injury and, as a result, triggered West Bend Mutual Insurance Company’s duty to defend under the commercial general liability policy West Bend issued to Ixthus, holding that the court of appeals properly concluded that West Bend had a duty to defend Ixthus.The circuit court concluded that, although the allegations in Abbott’s complaint fell within the initial grant of coverage, the “knowing violation” exclusion applied, thereby eliminating any duty West Bend had to defend. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the knowing violation exclusion did not apply. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the allegations in the complaint fell within the initial grant of coverage; and (2) neither the knowing violation nor the “criminal acts” exclusions applied to remove West Bend’s duty to defend because the complaint alleged at least one potentially covered claim unaffected by either exclusion. View "West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. v. Ixthus Medical Supply, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals affirming the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment to Steadfast Insurance Company giving Steadfast the right to recover from Greenwich Insurance Company, holding, among other things, that Greenwich breached its duty to defend.Steadfast’s right to recover from Greenwich was based on the two insurer’s relationships with Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), which was sued for alleged negligent maintenance and operation of Milwaukee’s sewerage system. After MMSD tendered its defense to the insurers, Steadfast accepted the tender but Greenwich did not. Steadfast then sued Greenwich to recover the defense costs it paid to MMSD. The Supreme Court held (1) both Greenwich and Steadfast were primary and successive insurers in regard to MMSD; (2) Greenwich breached its contractual duty to defend MMSD; (3) Steadfast had a contractual duty to defend MMSD that was not abrogated by Greenwich’s breach of its contractual duty to defend MMSD, and therefore, defense costs are allocated between Steadfast and Greenwich; and (4) Steadfast is entitled to recover attorney fees from Greenwich. View "Steadfast Insurance Co. v. Greenwich Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In this insurance dispute, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the circuit court’s interlocutory order that determined that the fire at issue constituted multiple occurrences instead of a single occurrence, holding that the fire constituted a single occurrence pursuant to the commercial general liability (CGL) policy.The court of appeals concluded (1) under the CGL policy, there was an occurrence each time the fire spread to a new piece of real property, and (2) therefore, the $2 million aggregate limit applied rather than the $500,000 per-occurrence limit for property damage due to fire arising from logging and lumbering operations. Both the circuit court and court of appeals purported to apply the “cause theory.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals’ approach was unpersuasive and had unreasonable consequences and that the $500,000 per-occurrence limit for property damage applied. View "SECURA Insurance v. Lyme St. Croix Forest Company, LLC" on Justia Law