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Insurance Law Archives

AN INSURANCE COMPANY CAN AFFIRMATIVELY CREATE A NEW AND INDEPENDENT TORT TO A CLAIMANT AS A RESULT OF THE INSURER'S CLAIM HANDLING ACTIVITIES SAYS THE ALASKA SUPREME COURT

In Burnett v. GEICO, 389 P.3d 27 (2017) the Alaska Supreme Court, as a matter of first impression, held that a liability insurer can owe a tort duty to a third-party claimant when the insurer's claims handling actions affirmatively create a new and independent duty to the claimant. In Burnett, GEICO's insured crashed into a cabin which caused, in part, a fuel leak. The fuel leak was required to be remediated environmentally in accordance with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) standards. GEICO hired a contractor to perform an environmental site assessment and to coordinate the necessary clean-up of the spill. However, GEICO delayed in the remediation effort. As a result, the fuel spill spread underneath the cabin itself. Because of this, the cabin owner sued not only the GEICO insured for the accident, but also GEICO for its negligent activities in timely cleaning up the environmental spill.

COLORADO COURT OF APPEALS ISSUES A SIGNIFICANT OPINION ON DAMAGES UNDER COLORADO'S UNREASONABLE DELAY STATUTE

The Colorado Court of Appeals in Nybert v. GEICO Casualty Co., 2017 WL 710504 (Colo. Ct. App. February 23, 2017) issued two significant rulings regarding Colorado's Unreasonable Delay Statute, Section 10-3-1116. In the first ruling, the Court held that the trial court was permitted under the statute to award the insured twice the amount of the delayed benefit in addition to the actual policy benefit that was delayed. In the second opinion, the Court found that an award of statutory attorney's fees to the insured could be made without regard to the period from when the benefit was first delayed to the date when it was actually paid and without regard to whether the fee award concerned a contractual claim.

OREGON SUPREME COURT RULES THAT UNDER ORS §742.061 AN INSURER'S VOLUNTARY PAYMENTS TO THE INSURED AFTER THE INSURED FILED SUIT AND THE APPRAISERS ISSUED AN AWARD WHICH ALSO WAS PAID WAS A "RECOVERY" ENTITLING THE INSURED TO AN AWARD OF ATTORNEYS' FEES

Under ORS §742.061 insurance companies are required to pay their insured's attorneys fees if, in the insured's lawsuit against the insurer, the insured obtains a "recovery" that exceeds the amount of any tender made by the insured within six months from the date that the insured first filed a proof of loss. In Long v. Farmers Insurance Company of Oregon, 360 Or. 791, 388 P.3d 312 (2017), the Oregon Supreme Court held that when an insured files an action against an insurer to recover sums owing on the insurance policy and the insurer subsequently pays the insured more than the amount of any tender made within six months from the insured's proof of loss, the insured obtains a "recovery" that entitles the insured to an award of reasonable attorney's fees notwithstanding the voluntary nature of the insurance company's payment. In essence, the court found that the term "recovery" included any kind of restoration of the loss, including a voluntary payment of a claim made after an action on the insurance policy had been filed. In determining whether a qualifying "recovery" has taken place for purposes of ORS §742.061, all that matters is that, after filing an action on an insurance policy, the insured obtains more from the insurer-irrespective of whether through judgment, settlement, voluntary payment or some other means-than the insurer tendered in the first six months after proof of loss, an award of attorney's fees is appropriate under the statute. The Court found that in the context of the statute, "recovery" was not limited to a money judgment rendered in the action in which attorney's fees were sought. The insured was not required to obtain a money judgment that exceeded any tender within the first six months after the insured submitted the proof of loss.

MAINE SUPREME COURT WEIGHS IN ON APPORTIONING DAMAGES

The Maine Supreme Court in Harlor v. Amica Mutual Ins. Co., 2016 WL 6518589 (ME November 3, 2016) held that when an insurance company refuses to defend its insured on a mixed complaint containing allegations of both potentially covered and uncovered claims the insurer would be liable only for that portion of the settlement between its insured and the claimants representing payment for covered claims.

INSURANCE SUBBROKER HELD TO NOT OWE DUTY TO WARN OF AN INSURANCE COMPANY FRAUD DURING THE PLACEMENT OF INSURANCE

Under Illinois statutory and common law an insurance broker owes a duty only to the named insured who has purchased insurance from the broker. Recently, the question arose under Illinois law regarding whether a sub broker, who played an administrative role in the placement of a large and complex risk involving a chain of brokers and subcontractors, but did not place any insurance on the behalf of the named insured or received commissions from the placement owed any type of duty to warn the named insured of potential "red flags" suggesting that the insurance company under which the program was placed was untrustworthy and that its polices issued might be worthless.

INDIANA COURT OF APPEALS HOLDS THAT POLICY SIR EXHAUSTION REQUIREMENT APPLIES TO ADDITIONAL INSURED AND NOT JUST THE NAMED INSURED

The Indiana Court of Appeals in Walsh Construction Co. v. Zurich American Insurance Co. 2017 WL 1151033 (IN Ct App March 28th 2017) acknowledged that under Indiana law in situations that arise between the insurer and the named insured, the insurer's responsibility is to defend and indemnify the named insured only after the SIR has been satisfied and exhausted. However, the question of whether a SIR endorsement applied only to the insurers relationship to the named insured or whether it also applied to an additional insured was resolved in the Walsh case as a question of first impression.

KENTUCKY COURT FINDS THAT OWNED-BUT-NOT-SCHEDULED POLICY EXCLUSION FROM UIM COVERAGE WAS ENFORCEABLE

Kentucky Supreme Court held in Philadelphia Indem. Ins. Co., Inc. v. Tryon, 502 S.W.3d 585 (Ky. 2016) that UIM exclusion pertaining to owned-but-not-scheduled automobiles were enforceable under Kentucky law provided that the policy expressly and plainly apprised the insured of the exclusion. According to the Supreme Court, Kentucky's public policy did not bar reasonable UIM exclusion provisions. Under Kentucky law, UM coverage was required by statute but UIM coverage was not. The Kentucky Supreme Court had previously ruled that a policy exclusion from the UIM definition of a vehicle available for the insured's regular use was enforceable and the fact that UIM benefits were non-mandatory by nature under Kentucky law, the Kentucky Supreme Court found that Philadelphia Indemnity's policy encompasses UIM exclusion provisions like the owned-but-not-scheduled exclusion.

THE CALIFORNIA COURT OF APPEALS FINDS THAT A 10:1 RATIO OF COMPENSATORY DAMAGES TO PUNITIVE DAMAGES IS APPROPRIATE IN AN INSURANCE BAD FAITH CASE AND THAT THE RATIO SHOULD BE NO HIGHER

In Nickerson v. Stonebridge Life Ins. Co., 5 Cal.App.5th 1, 209 Cal.Rptr.3d 690 (2nd Dist. 2016), the California Court of Appeals recently reduced a $19M punitive damages award in an insurance bad faith case to $475,000 applying a 10:1 ratio of compensatory damages to punitive damages.

CALIFORNIA COURT OF APPEALS HOLDS THAT AUTOMOBILE POLICY'S COLLISION COVERAGE DID NOT REQUIRE THE INSURANCE COMPANY TO PAY FOR THE CAR'S LOST MARKET VALUE

In Baldwin v. AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah, 204 Cal.Rptr 3d 433 (1st Dist. 2016), the Court held that an automobile insurer had no obligation to pay the "pre-accident value" of the insured vehicle under the policy's collision coverage provision which gave the insurer the option to repair the vehicle and which expressly excluded diminution in value damages. The Court held that the insurer did not breach the policy's implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing by not compensating its insured for the diminished value of the vehicle.

THE IDAHO SUPREME COURT REFUSES TO ENFORCE UIM POLICY ANTI-STACKING PROVISIONS

The Idaho Supreme Court in Gearhart v. Mutual of Enumclaw Ins. Co., 160 Idaho 666, 378 P.3d 454 (Idaho 2016), found that a UIM anti-stacking provision was ambiguous and, therefore, unenforceable. In Gearhart, the Court considered a UIM policy's anti-stacking clause which stated that the maximum limit of liability under all of the policies that were issued was the highest applicable limit under any one policy. However, the Court found this clause to be ambiguous and, therefore, did not preclude a passenger from recovering the total cumulative UIM benefits under each policy issued to the insured's parents. The majority opinion concluded that the anti-stacking clause in question was ambiguous because it could be construed to "mean that one aggregates all of the applicable policy limits and then the total of the limits constitutes the highest limit of any one policy." The dissent characterized the majority's conclusion as "nonsensical." The dissent would have found the anti-stacking clause to be neither ambiguous nor complex.

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