Friday, September 9, 2016

At last: A tv show about insurance adjusters and superheroes!

I cannot wait for Powerless, a new tv show about adjusting losses caused by superheroes. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

FAIR Plan fined for impermissibly canceling homeowner's policies

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has announced that the Massachusetts Property Insurance Underwriting Association (FAIR Plan) has agreed to pay $350,000 to resolve allegations that it impermissibly cancelled homeowner's insurance policies between January 2010 and February 2014. 
The payment will be used to provide relief to homeowners who had to purchase more expensive insurance after their FAIR plan policies were cancelled.
Click here for a press release from the Attorney General's office with more information. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

US District Court for District of Massachusetts allows default judgment after defendant insured served by publication

After Juan Molina was killed in a construction site accident, his estate brought a wrongful death claim against multiple defendants including Santos Remodeling, Inc., a landscaping company. 

Santos was insured by Amguard Insurance Company.  The Amguard policy excludes bodily injury to an employee of the insured arising out of and in the course of employment. 

In a declaratory judgment action against Santos, Amguard alleged that Santos breached its duties under the policy because it never notified Amguard of Molina's death and has not cooperated in Amguard's defense of the claim.  Amguard alleged that is has been prejudiced by those failures both in its investigation of coverage and in its defense of the claim.

Molina's estate was also named as a defendant in the declaratory judgment action.  (Typically all parties to an underlying case should be parties in a dj action.)  The estate moved to dismiss for improper venue.  That motion was granted, so that the only remaining defendant was Santos.

Amguard's motion to serve Santos by publication was granted.  Amguard published a notice of the litigation in the local paper.  When Santos did not answer the complaint, Amguard moved for a default judgment.  That motion was allowed in Amguard Insurance Company v. Santos Remodeling, Inc., 2016 WL 424961 (D. Mass.) (unpublished). 

It's hard for me to understand why Molina's estate sought to be dismissed from the case instead of litigating on the merits.  Santos is likely judgment-proof, so any recovery against it must come from the insurer.   Maybe the estate felt that the insurer's facts were so strong, either on coverage or defense, that it was not worth fighting for coverage.  Maybe other defendants in the underlying matter have sufficient coverage that Molina's coverage is irrelevant.  (But if so, where are the carriers for the codefendants -- surely they would want to share liability with other defendants?) 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

U.S. District Court denies insurer's request to remove arbitrator prior to arbitration award being issued

The following case is a straightforward decision on the law of arbitration, but it provides a glimpse into the world of reinsurance as well as the mergers, acquisitions, demergers and sales of insurance entities. 

John Hancock Life Insurance Company entered into an agreement with Employers Reassurance Corporation  by which John Hancock would transfer to Employers a percentage of its retention of liability under some of its policies.  The transfer agreement included an arbitration clause that provided that in the event of a dispute each party would appoint one arbitrator and those two arbitrators would select a third. 

John Hancock initiated arbitration to resolve a dispute regarding Employers' right to increase the reinsurance premiums charged under the agreement.  Employers selected Denis Loring as its appointed arbitrator.

John Hancock alleged that the appointment of Loring violated the agreement's prohibition on the appointment of arbitrators who were past or present employees of John Hancock or its affiliates because Loring had worked for one of its affiliates.  Employers asserted that the appointment was consistent with the agreement because Loring ceased working for the affiliate before it became affiliated with John Hancock, and the affiliate is no longer affiliated with John Hancock.  (The name of the affiliate is John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company -- not to be confused with John Hancock Life Insurance Company, the plaintiff in this case.) 

In John Hancock Life Insurance Company (U.S.A.) v. Employers Reassurance Corporation, 2016 WL 3460316 (D. Mass.) (unpublished), the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts held that the Federal Arbitration Act does not authorize a court to remove an arbitrator before a final arbitration award has been issued.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A great insurance event (a month later)

Last month I was privileged to attend a fantastic networking event at the Insurance Library in Boston, where I caught up with scattered colleagues and met local giants in the insurance field including current and former commissioners of the Massachusetts Division of Insurance, the publisher of The Standard, a weekly insurance journal, long-time teachers of insurance certification classes, and others.  

Agency Checklists, one of my favorite blogs, posted about it here along with a description of some of the services offered by the Insurance Library.   

Thursday, June 23, 2016

First Circuit certifies to SJC question of whether insurer must pay attorney's fees for insured's counterclaim

This case may signal a significant development in insurance coverage law -- so significant that it almost overshadows the overwhelming chutzpah of the underlying plaintiff.  (But, as they say, innocent until etc.)  (The traditional definition of chutzpah:  A man kills his parents, then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.) 

In Mount Vernon Fire Ins. Co. v. VisionAid, Inc., __ F.3d __, 2016 WL 3202961 (1st Cir.), the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit certified to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts the question of whether an insurer is required to litigate a counterclaim on behalf of an insured. 

Gary Sullivan sued his former employer, VisionAid, alleging that his termination was the product of illegal age discrimination. VisionAid's insurer, Mt. Vernon Fire Insurance Company, is defending VisionAid.

VisionAid asserts as a defense that it fired Sullivan because he misappropriated several hundred thousand dollars of corporate funds.  No real reason to italicize that, except:  He stole several hundred thousand dollars of corporate funds and then sued his employer for discrimination.  

Sullivan filed his age discrimination claim with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.  He initially demanded $400,000 to settle his claim.  He repeatedly reduced his demand until he was asking $5,000, before he eventually offered to walk away with no money at all if VisionAid would agree to sign a mutual release.  VisionAid refused to consent to a mutual release as it wanted to go after Sullivan for the allegedly stolen money. 

Sullivan voluntarily dismissed his MCAD claim.  A few months later he filed his claim for age discrimination and other causes of action in Massachusetts state court.  Mt. Vernon agreed to defend VisionAid "unless and until such time that it is determined that there is no coverage under the policy." 

VisionAid responded that it would exercise its right to choose its own attorney.  (When an insurer defends under a reservation of its right to later deny coverage, the insured can choose its own attorney.  That attorney is paid by the insurer.)  Mt. Vernon withdrew its reservation of rights and , because of this, indicated that the counsel it appointed would remain VisionAid's defense counsel.  It stated that it was not required to pay for the prosecution of VisionAid's counterclaim against Sullivan.  Mt. Vernon told VisionAid to hire (and pay for) its own lawyer if it wished to pursue the counterclaim.

Mt. Vernon then filed a suit for declaratory judgment seeking a decision on whether it was required to pay for the prosecution of VisionAid's proposed misappropriation counterclaim.  VisionAid counterclaimed that Mt. Vernon's duty to defend against Sullivan's lawsuit included the duty to prosecute the misappropriation counterclaim, and that VisionAid had the right to be represented by independent counsel for the entire Sullivan action at Mt. Vernon's expense.  VisionAid's theory was that the interests of it and Mt. Vernon were no longer aligned because Mt. Vernon had an interest in diminishing the value of the counterclaim or eliminating it because it was an impediment to settlement. 

The First Circuit certified to the SJC the following questions:

1.   Whether, and under what circumstances, an insurer may owe a duty to its insured to prosecute through insurance defense counsel the insured's counterclaims for damages where the insurance policy provides that the insurer has a "duty to defend any claim," i.e. "any proceeding initiated against the insured."

2.  Whether, and under what circumstances, an insurer may owe a duty to its insured to fund through insurance defense counsel the prosecution of the insured's counterclaims for damages, where the insurance contract requires the insurer to cover "defense costs" or the "reasonable and necessary legal fees and expenses incurred by [the insurer], or by any attorney designated by [the insurer] to defend [the insured], resulting from the investigation, adjustment, defense and appeal of a claim."

3.  Assuming the existence of a duty to prosecute the insured's counterclaims, in the event it is determined that an insurer has an interest in devaluing or otherwise impairing such counterclaim, does a conflict of interest arise that entitles the insured to control and/or appoint independent counsel to control the entire proceeding, including both the defense of any covered claims and the prosecution of the subject counterclaims?