Articles Posted in Insurance Law

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Lou Hodges submitted a claim for long-term-disability (LTD) benefits to Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA) through his employer’s group-insurance plan. Although LINA approved his claim, Hodges contended LINA should have classified him as a “sales” employee under the policy, which would have entitled him to more benefits. This led Hodges to sue LINA. The district court remanded for further factfinding, but LINA once again reached the same result. The district court then reversed LINA’s decision, concluding that Hodges qualified as a salesperson under the policy. LINA appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed that ruling. View "Hodges v. Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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John Teets, a participant in an employer retirement plan, invested money in Great-West Life Annuity and Insurance Company’s investment fund which guaranteed investors would never lose their principal or the interest they accrued. The investment fund was offered to employers as an investment option for their employees’ retirement savings plans, which were governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Teets later sued Great-West under ERISA, alleging Great-West breached a fiduciary duty to participants in the fund or that Great-West was a nonfiduciary party in interest that benefitted from prohibited transactions with his plan’s assets. After certifying a class of 270,000 plan participants like Mr. Teets, the district court granted summary judgment for Great-West, holding that: (1) Great-West was not a fiduciary; and (2) Mr. Teets had not adduced sufficient evidence to impose liability on Great-West as a non-fiduciary party in interest. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "Teets v. Great-West Life" on Justia Law

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Tony Kourianos worked as a coal miner for more than 27 years before filing a claim for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (“BLBA”). His claim was reviewed through a three-tiered administrative process. Ultimately, the Benefits Review Board (“BRB”) found that he was entitled to benefits. The BRB also found that Kourianos’s last employer, Hidden Splendor Resources, Inc., was the “responsible operator” liable for paying those benefits. Hidden Splendor’s insurer, Rockwood Casualty Insurance Company, petitioned the Tent Circuit Court of Appeal for review of the BRB’s decision: (1) challenging the administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) decision prohibiting Hidden Splendor from withdrawing its responsible operator stipulation; and (2) contending the BRB incorrectly found that Kourianos was totally disabled and entitled to benefits. Finding no abuse of discretion in the BRB decision, the Tenth Circuit denied Rockwood's petition. View "Rockwood Casualty Insurance v. Director, OWCP" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal were commercial general liability policy exclusions that barred coverage for damage to “that particular part” of the property on which an insured is performing operations, or which must be repaired or replaced due to the insured’s incorrect work. The Tenth Circuit concluded the phrase “that particular part” was susceptible to more than one reasonable construction: it could refer to the distinct component upon which an insured works or to all parts ultimately impacted by that work. The Court surmised the contract had to then be interpreted consistent with the mutual intent of the parties, with the ambiguity resolved most favorably to the insured and against the insurance carrier. The Court adopted the narrower interpretation of the phrase “that particular part,” under which the exclusion extends only to the distinct components upon which work was performed. This conclusion was contrary to the district court's interpretation, and therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "MTI v. Employers Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Dennis Woolman, former president of The Clemens Coal Company, challenged a district court’s determination that Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company didn’t breach a duty to him by failing to procure for Clemens Coal an insurance policy with a black-lung disease endorsement. Clemens Coal operated a surface coal mine until it filed for bankruptcy in 1997. Woolman served as Clemens Coal’s last president before it went bankrupt. Federal law required Clemens Coal to maintain worker’s compensation insurance with a special endorsement covering miners’ black-lung disease benefits. Woolman didn’t personally procure insurance for Clemens Coal but instead delegated that responsibility to an outside consultant. The policy the consultant ultimately purchased for the company did not contain a black-lung-claim endorsement, and it expressly excluded coverage for federal occupational disease claims, such as those arising under the Black Lung Benefits Act (the Act). In 2012, a former Clemens Coal employee, Clayton Spencer, filed a claim with the United States Department of Labor (DOL) against Clemens Coal for benefits under the Act. After some investigation, the DOL advised Woolman that Clemens Coal was uninsured for black-lung-benefits claims as of July 25, 1997 (the last date of Spencer’s employment) and that, without such coverage, Woolman, as Clemens Coal’s president, could be held personally liable. Woolman promptly tendered the claim to Liberty Mutual for a legal defense. Liberty Mutual responded with a reservation-of-rights letter, stating that it hadn’t yet determined coverage for Spencer’s claim but that it would provide a defense during its investigation. Then in a follow-up letter, Liberty Mutual clarified that it would defend Clemens Coal as a company (not Woolman personally) and advised Woolman to retain his own counsel. Liberty Mutual eventually concluded that the insurance policy didn’t cover the black-lung claim, and sued Clemens Coal and Woolman for a declaration to that effect. In his suit, Woolman also challenged the district court’s rejection of his argument that Liberty Mutual should have been estopped from denying black-lung-disease coverage, insisting that he relied on Liberty Mutual to provide such coverage. Having considered the totality of the circumstances, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court didn’t err in declining Woolman’s extraordinary request to expand the coverages in the Liberty Mutual policy. “Liberty Mutual never represented it would procure the coverage that Woolman now seeks, and the policy itself clearly excludes such coverage. No other compelling consideration justifies rewriting the agreement— twenty years later—to Woolman’s liking.” View "Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance v. Woolman" on Justia Law

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Billy Hamilton appealed a district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant Northfield Insurance Company as to Hamilton’s claim for breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing and his accompanying request for punitive damages. In March 2015, Hamilton purchased a Northfield insurance policy for a commercial building in Council Hill, Oklahoma. Northfield had a third party inspect the property for underwriting purposes; the underwriting survey report concluded the risk was “Satisfactory with Recommendation Compliance” and identified eight recommendations for repairs. A tenant informed him the roof was leaking in December 2015, and Hamilton reported the leak and the resulting interior damage to Northfield. Northfield denied the claim because a claims adjuster saw no evidence of damage. Hamilton had made repairs, but the adjuster did not see evidence of them, and did not ask whether any were made. A week after receiving the denial, Northfield informed Hamilton it would not renew his policy when it expired. Hamilton was unsuccessful in his suit against Northfield, challenging on appeal the outcome with respect to breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing (he won a jury verdict on his breach of contract claim). The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of the trial court’s discretion in its rulings on Hamilton’s claims, and affirmed. View "Hamilton v. Northfield Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Winter wheat farmers could purchase insurance to protect against below-average harvests. The policies at issue here offered yield protection. On July 1, 2014, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (“FCIC”) published an interim rule to implement the 2014 Farm Bill. In that interim rule, the FCIC warned that the APH yield exclusion “may not be implemented upon publication” because “[p]roduction data availability and intensive data analysis may limit FCIC’s ability to authorize exclusions of yields for all APH crops in all counties.” Therefore, the FCIC amended the Common Crop Insurance Policy (CCIP) Basic Provisions (the actual terms of the insurance policy offered for sale) “to allow the actuarial documents to specify when insureds may elect to exclude any recorded or appraised yield.” The revised CCIP Basic Provisions stated that farmers “may elect” the APH yield exclusion “[i]f provided in the actuarial documents.” The deadline for winter wheat farmers to purchase insurance for the 2015 crop year was September 30, 2014. When Plaintiffs purchased insurance, they elected to use the APH yield exclusion. But in a letter dated October 31, 2014, the USDA notified insurance providers that the APH Yield Exclusion would not be available for winter wheat for the 2015 crop year. The letter stated that insurance providers could respond to farmers’ elections by pointing them to the USDA’s “actuarial documents,” which did not yet “reflect that such an election is available.” Plaintiffs sought review of this denial through the USDA’s administrative appeals process. An administrative judge determined that she lacked jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ challenge because the October 2014 letter to insurance providers was not an adverse agency decision. Plaintiffs then appealed to the Director of the National Appeals Division. The Director found that the October 2014 letter was an adverse agency decision, but affirmed the FCIC’s decision not to make the APH yield exclusion available to winter wheat farmers for the 2015 crop year. Plaintiffs appealed the Director’s decision to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. The district court reversed the Director’s decision and remanded the case to the FCIC with instructions to retroactively apply the APH yield exclusion to Plaintiffs’ 2015 crop year insurance policies, reasoning the applicable statute unambiguously made the APH yield exclusion available to all farmers on the day the 2014 Farm Bill was enacted. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Ausmus v. Perdue" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Jeffrey Allen was injured in a car accident in May 2013. His automobile insurance policy included coverage for medical expenses arising from car accidents, but this coverage contained a one-year limitation period such that he could not obtain reimbursement for medical expenses that accrued a year or more after an accident. Allen sought reimbursement for medical expenses accruing more than a year after his accident, arguing this limitation period was invalid on two grounds: (1) a 2012 disclosure form that his insurer sent him stated that his policy covers reasonable medical expenses arising from a car accident, Colorado’s reasonable-expectations doctrine rendered the one-year limitations period unenforceable; and (2) Colorado’s MedPay statute, which required car insurance companies to offer at least $5,000 of coverage for medical expenses, prohibited placing a one-year time limit on this coverage. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer. After review, the Tenth Circuit rejected both of Allen’s arguments and affirmed the district court order. View "Allen v. USAA" on Justia Law

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In 2013, while the disputed insurance policy was in effect, several guests at the Siloam Springs Hotel allegedly sustained injuries due to carbon monoxide poisoning stemming from an indoor-swimming-pool heater that had recently been serviced. The hotel sought coverage under the policy, and the insurer denied coverage based on the exclusion for “qualities or characteristics of indoor air.” This case made it back to the Tenth Circuit following a remand in which the district court was directed to determine whether there was complete diversity of citizenship between the parties, which was an essential jurisdictional issue that needed to be decided before it could properly address the merits of this case. On remand, the district court received evidence on this question and determined that diversity jurisdiction was indeed proper. The district court also certified a policy question to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which held that the exclusion at issue in this case - however interpreted -should not be voided based on public policy concerns. Following the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s resolution of the certified question, the insurer asked the district court to administratively close the case, arguing that “no further activity in this case . . . remains necessary to render the [district c]ourt’s adjudication of the coverage issue which the case concerns a final judgment.” The hotel asked the court to reopen the case to either reconsider its previous order or to enter a final, appealable judgment against the hotel. The district court held that the case had already been administratively closed and it had no need to reopen the case, since “both its finding of diversity jurisdiction and the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s answer to the certified question did not alter in any way” the court’s summary judgment decision on the merits of the coverage dispute. The hotel appealed. The Tenth Circuit determined the hotel was entitled to coverage under the policy at issue, and reversed the district court's denial. The case was remanded for further proceedings on the question of damages. View "Siloam Springs Hotel v. Century Surety Company" on Justia Law

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Belsen Getty, LLC, a registered investment adviser owned by Terry Deru, obtained a claims-made financial-services-liability policy (the Policy) from XL Specialty Insurance Company covering Belsen Getty and its advisers for the period for one year. Under the policy, XL had no duty to defend. During the policy period James, Jenalyn, and Wade Morden brought claims against Belsen Getty and Deru alleging improper and misleading investment advice. XL denied coverage, asserting the Mordens’ claims and claims brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) before the policy period concerned “Interrelated Wrongful Acts,” as defined by the Policy, and that the Policy therefore required treating the two claims as one claim made before the policy period. Belsen Getty and Deru then settled with the Mordens, assigning their rights against XL; and the Mordens sued XL in federal district court, raising the assigned claims that XL breached its covenant of good faith and fair dealing and its fiduciary duties to Belsen Getty and Deru in denying coverage under the Policy. XL counterclaimed that the Policy’s Interrelated Wrongful Acts provision precluded coverage. The Mordens moved for partial summary judgment on the counterclaim and on several of XL's affirmative defenses. XL moved for summary judgment based on the policy and for failure to prove bad faith or breach of fiduciary duty. The district court denied XL's counterclaim, but granted summary judgment on the bad-faith and fiduciary-duty claims. The Mordens appealed summary judgment against them on their bad-faith and fiduciary-duty claims and on the denial of their motion to amend their complaint to add a breach-of-contract claim. XL cross-appealed the summary judgment against it on its counterclaim that the Policy’s Interrelated Wrongful Acts provision barred all the Mordens’ claims. The Tenth Circuit reversed the denial of XL’s motion for summary judgment on its counterclaim: this reversal undermined the Mordens’ challenges to the summary judgment against them and the denial of their motion to amend. The Court therefore affirmed summary judgment against the Mordens on their claims and the denial of their motion to amend. View "Morden v. XL Specialty Insurance" on Justia Law