Thursday, September 24, 2009

Determining what state's law applies to a coverage dispute

In a coverage dispute the first question is what state's law will determine the coverage issue. That, in turn, is decided by the choice of law rules in the state where the lawsuit is filed.

As described in Clarendon Nat'l Ins. Co. v. Arbella Mut. Ins. Co., 60 Mass. App. Ct. 492, 495 (2004), Massachusetts uses a "functional choice-of-law approach that responds to the interests of the parties, the states involved, and the interstate system as a whole." In this approach Massachusetts courts rely on the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, sections 193, 188, and 6.

As described by the court in Clarendon, Section 193 "provides that the rights created by a contract of casualty insurance are to be determined by the local law of the State that the parties to the insurance contract understood would be the principal location of the insured risk, unless some other State has a more significant relationship under the principles of § 6."

The principal location of a homeowners policy insuring one house is the state where the house is located and the insured resides. The principal location of an auto policy issued for a single car is the state where the car is garaged and usually driven.

The issue becomes more complicated when a policy insures risks in many states. For example, a general liability policy may insure a business that has factories in several states. A motor vehicle policy could be issued to a trucking company that transports products all over the country.

In such instances a Massachusetts court turns to Section 6 of the Restatement, which lists seven factors to consider:

a) The needs of the interstate and international systems, (b) the relevant policies of the forum, (c) the relevant policies of other interested states and the relative interests of those states in the determination of the particular issue, (d) the protection of justified expectations, (e) the basic policies underlying the particular field of law, (f) certainty, predictability and uniformity of result, and (g) ease in the determination and application of the law to be applied.

My opinion is that taken as a whole those factors add up to gibberish. They give permission to a judge to apply the law of whatever state he or she feels like applying. The only caveat is that the location or locations of the underlying insured events is not a factor. See W.R. Grace & Co. v. Hartford Accident and Indem. Co., 407 Mass. 572 (1990); Michaud v. U.S. Fire Ins. Co., 2000 WL 16767.

1 comment:

Kandukuri Kishore said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.