In a split decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Water Well Solutions Service Group, Inc. v. Consolidated Ins. Co., 2015 WI 54, 369 Wis.2d 607, 881 N.W.2d 285 (2016), reaffirmed the “four-corners” rule governing a liability insurer’s duty to defend in Wisconsin. The Court unambiguously reaffirmed the rule and confirmed in the majority opinion that there were no exceptions to the rule that would permit extrinsic evidence to create a duty to defend where no duty to defend otherwise existed. According to the majority’s view, the four-corners rule promoted certainty and avoided speculation over the underlying plaintiff’s true allegation. A vigorous dissent by two Justices challenged the majority opinion both in principle and application. The dissent noted that Wisconsin was in a shrinking minority of jurisdictions clinging to a strict application of the four-corners rule and that Wisconsinites would be better served by a rule that recognized substance over form in allowing extrinsic evidence to inform the duty to defend decision.
Steven Plitt is an accomplished author and expert witness, and has been a licensed attorney for 33 years. During his career, he has reviewed and analyzed more than 6,000 claim files from 100 different insurance companies. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, he serves as counselor and expert for insurance coverage and bad faith claims nationwide. For more information or to set up an appointment, please visit his website at insuranceexpertplitt.com.