Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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In a maritime insurance dispute between Great Lakes Insurance, a German company, and Raiders Retreat Realty, a Pennsylvania company, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that choice-of-law provisions in maritime contracts are presumptively enforceable under federal maritime law, with certain narrow exceptions not applicable in this case.The dispute originated when Raiders Retreat Realty's boat ran aground, and Great Lakes Insurance denied coverage, alleging that Raiders breached the insurance contract by failing to maintain the boat’s fire-suppression system. The insurance contract contained a choice-of-law provision that selected New York law to govern future disputes. Raiders argued that Pennsylvania law, not New York law, should apply. The District Court ruled in favor of Great Lakes, finding that the choice-of-law provision was presumptively valid and enforceable under federal maritime law. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated this decision, holding that choice-of-law provisions must yield to the strong public policy of the state where the suit is brought.The Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit's decision, emphasizing the importance of uniformity and predictability in maritime law. The Court concluded that choice-of-law provisions allow maritime actors to avoid later disputes and the ensuing litigation and costs, thus promoting maritime commerce. Therefore, such provisions are presumptively enforceable under federal maritime law. The Court further clarified that exceptions to this rule exist but are narrow, and none of them applied in this case. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Raiders Retreat Realty Co." on Justia Law

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The case involves Consolidated Restaurant Operations (CRO), a company that owns and operates dozens of restaurants, and Westport Insurance Corporation (Westport). CRO had an "all-risk" commercial property insurance policy with Westport, which covered "all risks of direct physical loss or damage to insured property." When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, causing CRO to suspend or substantially curtail its operations due to the presence of the virus in its restaurants and government restrictions on nonessential businesses, CRO sought coverage for the ensuing loss of revenue. Westport denied coverage, stating that the coronavirus did not cause "direct physical loss or damage" to CRO's properties. CRO filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration of Westport's obligations under the policy and damages for breach of contract.The Supreme Court of New York dismissed the complaint, declaring that the policy did not cover CRO's alleged losses. The Appellate Division affirmed this decision, interpreting "direct physical loss or damage" to require a tangible alteration of the property, which CRO had not demonstrated.The case was then brought to the New York Court of Appeals. The court held that "direct physical loss or damage" requires a material alteration or a complete and persistent dispossession of insured property. The presence of the virus in the restaurants and the resulting cessation of in-person dining services did not meet this requirement. The court thus affirmed the lower courts’ dismissal of the complaint. View "Consolidated Rest. Operations, Inc. v Westport Insurance Corp." on Justia Law

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In this case heard before the Supreme Court of Kentucky, the primary issue was whether the Breathitt Circuit Court correctly dismissed Teresa Spicer's lawsuit against James Combs for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). Spicer's suit arose from damages linked to Combs' actions, following a fatal ATV accident which resulted in the death of Tiara Combs, James Combs’ wife and Spicer's daughter. Prior to the lawsuit, Combs and Spicer, as co-administrators of Tiara's estate, had signed a release settlement with Progressive Casualty Insurance Company, effectively absolving both Combs and Progressive of any further liability relating to the accident.After learning that Combs was intoxicated at the time of the accident, a fact he allegedly hid from her, Spicer sought to sue Combs personally for IIED. Combs moved to dismiss Spicer's complaint on the grounds that the previous release signed by Spicer barred her claim, and that her complaint did not meet the standard for an IIED claim. The circuit court dismissed the action, holding that the release was intentionally broad and included all potential claims, including IIED.On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal, ruling that the release did not prevent Spicer from asserting a personal cause of action against Combs. The Supreme Court of Kentucky affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision. The court ruled that the language of the release only covered claims possessed by the estate and not Spicer's individual claims. Furthermore, the Court held that Spicer's complaint was sufficient to proceed under a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, leaving it to the circuit court to resolve whether Spicer can sufficiently establish her claim at a later time. View "COMBS V. SPICER" on Justia Law

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The City of Richmond Heights, Missouri filed a claim with Mt. Hawley Insurance Company under a commercial property policy for losses of tax revenue due to government-mandated COVID-19 closures. Mt. Hawley denied the claim and sued for a declaratory judgment that it was not obligated to cover the losses. Richmond Heights counterclaimed with five counts: (1) breach of contract, (2) vexatious refusal to pay, (3) fraudulent inducement and misrepresentation, (4) negligent misrepresentation, and (5) breach of fiduciary duty. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri dismissed the counterclaims, denied amendments to two of them, and granted declaratory judgment to Mt. Hawley. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the decision of the lower court.The appellate court held that the insurance policy required "direct physical loss of or damage to property" for coverage which was not met by the COVID-19 shutdowns. The court also rejected the city's argument that the Additional Covered Property Endorsement in the policy removed the "physical damage or loss" requirement for losses of sales tax revenues. Furthermore, the court found that the city's claims of fraud, misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty were not distinct from its breach of contract claim and thus were properly dismissed by the district court. Lastly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the city's motion to amend its breach of contract and vexatious refusal claims, concluding that the proposed amendments would not have survived a motion to dismiss. View "Mt. Hawley Insurance Company v. City of Richmond Heights" on Justia Law

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In the Supreme Court of Wyoming, an appeal by Ronald Pinther, a former insurance agent, was dismissed. Pinther had worked for American National Property and Casualty Insurance Company (ANPAC) and American National Insurance Company (ANICO). He filed a lawsuit against ANPAC, ANICO, and another agent, Philip Maggard, claiming breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing, fraudulent inducement, promissory estoppel, civil conspiracy, and age discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of ANPAC and Mr. Maggard. On appeal, the Supreme Court held that the district court had not erred in its decision. The court found that Mr. Pinther's breach of contract claim against ANPAC was governed by the Post-Termination Compensation Schedule outlined in the agent agreement. The court further held that Mr. Pinther's claim of a breach of an implied duty of good faith and fair dealing could not be maintained given the at-will nature of the agency contract. The court also dismissed Mr. Pinther's fraudulent inducement claim against ANPAC, noting that the recruiting brochure did not govern his agreement with ANPAC. The court further held that Mr. Pinther's claim for tortious interference with a contract against Mr. Maggard could not be maintained as the actions of Mr. Maggard, as an agent of ANPAC, were imputed to ANPAC. Lastly, the court held that Mr. Pinther's civil conspiracy claims against ANPAC and Mr. Maggard failed as the underlying tort claims did not survive summary judgment. View "Pinther v. American National Property and Casualty Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision that the Pacific Life Insurance Company did not owe benefits to Katie Blevins, the beneficiary of a life insurance policy taken out by her late fiancé, Dr. Travis Richardson. Richardson applied for a life insurance policy and paid the first month's premium three days before he died. He did not sign the received policy or any required amendments. Blevins claimed that the policy was in effect at the time of Richardson's death, despite the policy not being physically delivered or formally accepted. Blevins also brought claims of bad faith, promissory estoppel, and apparent authority against the insurance company. In its decision, the court stated the policy was clear in its conditions, which required physical delivery and acceptance before the policy was in force. The court found these conditions were not met, as the policy was neither delivered nor accepted by Richardson before his death. Therefore, no death benefit was owed. As a result, Blevins' bad faith claim was also dismissed, as the insurer could not have acted in bad faith if there was no obligation to pay out the policy. View "Pacific Life Insurance Company v. Blevins" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between a homeowner, Mario Rodriguez, and his insurance company, Safeco Insurance Company of Indiana. After a tornado damaged Rodriguez's home, Safeco issued a payment of $27,449.88, which Rodriguez accepted. Rodriguez's counsel then informed Safeco that it owed an additional $29,500 and threatened to sue. Rodriguez sued Safeco, bringing several claims, including breach of contract and statutory claims under the Insurance Code. Safeco invoked the insurance policy’s appraisal provision and subsequently issued a check to Rodriguez for $32,447.73, which it viewed as full payment of the appraisal amount due under the policy. Safeco also paid an additional $9,458.40, which it claimed would cover any interest possibly owed on the appraised amount.The Supreme Court of Texas was asked to answer a certified question from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit: “In an action under Chapter 542A of the Texas Prompt Payment of Claims Act, does an insurer’s payment of the full appraisal award plus any possible statutory interest preclude recovery of attorney’s fees?” The Supreme Court of Texas held that the answer is yes. When an insurer has fully discharged its obligations under the policy by voluntarily paying the appraised amount, plus any statutory interest, in compliance with the policy’s appraisal provisions, section 542A.007 of the Insurance Code prohibits an award of attorney’s fees. This is because there is no remaining “amount to be awarded in the judgment to the claimant for the claimant’s claim under the insurance policy,” which means no attorney’s fees are available under section 542A.007(a)(3)’s formula. View "RODRIGUEZ v. SAFECO INSURANCE COMPANY OF INDIANA" on Justia Law

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In this case, a woman was severely injured while moving an inoperable airplane owned by her husband. She sought recovery from her husband's homeowner's insurance policy. The insurance policy, however, excluded injuries "arising out of" the ownership, maintenance, use, loading or unloading of an aircraft. The woman argued that the policy should cover her injury because, in her view, the aircraft had become mere "parts" after her husband removed the wings, elevators, and tail rudder. The lower court disagreed and concluded that her injuries were not covered by the policy. The woman appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska agreed with the lower court’s interpretation of the homeowner's insurance policy exclusion. The court maintained that regardless of whether the airplane was considered an aircraft or a collection of airplane “parts” when it injured the woman, the injury arose out of the husband’s ownership of the airplane. This interpretation was supported by the clear language of the policy which excluded coverage for bodily injury arising out of ownership or maintenance of an aircraft. As a result, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision. View "Thompson v. United Services Automobile Association" on Justia Law

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In this case heard by the Supreme Court of the State of Wyoming, the plaintiff, Scherri Hacker, made a conversion claim against Hacker Oil, Inc., which had paid premiums on a whole life insurance policy on her husband, James Hacker. The policy was executed as a split-dollar arrangement, with the intention that upon Mr. Hacker's death, Hacker Oil would be reimbursed for the paid premiums, and the remaining death benefits would be distributed to Mrs. Hacker. After Mr. Hacker's death, Hacker Oil received $125,000 and half the interest accrued under the policy, which exceeded the $55,048 it had remitted in premium payments.The defendant, Hacker Oil, appealed the district court's decision, arguing that Mrs. Hacker had failed to mitigate her damages by withholding her signature from a letter agreement and by asserting a conversion claim against Hacker Oil. The court, however, upheld the district court's ruling, finding that Mrs. Hacker did not have a duty to mitigate her damages. The court determined that Mrs. Hacker's failure to sign the letter agreement prior to Hacker Oil's signing and submission of a claim to the insurance company did not constitute a failure to mitigate damages. The court further concluded that once Hacker Oil committed the conversion, Mrs. Hacker rightfully brought a claim and asserted her rights. Thus, the Supreme Court of the State of Wyoming affirmed the district court's decision, holding that Hacker Oil had wrongfully converted $70,372.68, the difference between the amount it received and the amount it was entitled to receive. View "Hacker Oil, Inc. v. Hacker" on Justia Law

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In this case, Defendant-Appellee Martin Andersson purchased an insurance policy for his vessel from Plaintiff-Appellant Great Lakes Insurance SE. The vessel ran aground off the coast of the Dominican Republic, and Great Lakes brought a declaratory judgment action to determine coverage under the policy. Andersson filed counterclaims for breach of contract and equitable estoppel. Great Lakes' motion for summary judgment was denied, and Andersson was granted partial summary judgment on his breach of contract claim. Great Lakes appealed, claiming the district court erred in refusing to apply the policy's definition of seaworthiness.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that under the absolute implied warranty of seaworthiness, the insured vessel must be seaworthy at the policy's inception, and if not, the policy is void. The court affirmed the district court's ruling, stating that Great Lakes' argument that the absolute implied warranty required the vessel to carry up-to-date charts for all geographic areas covered by the policy in order to be considered seaworthy was unsupported by admiralty case law and was unreasonable.Additionally, the court held that Great Lakes' argument that the express terms of the policy required updated paper charts for every location that could be navigated under the entirety of the policy coverage area was unsupported by the express language of the policy itself. The court found no precedent supporting the claim that updated paper charts for every location covered by the policy were required to be onboard the vessel at the inception of the policy. As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision in favor of Andersson. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Andersson" on Justia Law