Monday, July 25, 2011

US District Court holds that due process claims regarding tax lien "arose from" prior litigation regarding the lien

In my last post I wrote about Saugus v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., __ F.2d __, 2011 WL 2311873 (D. Mass.),in which the town of Saugus sought insurance coverage for claims that it had wrongfully demolished a house after a fire and collected costs associated with the demolition.

In addition to the Zurich policy discussed in the last post, the town had also been issued a claims-based policy by Maryland Casualty. That policy contained an exclusion for claims "arising from all pending or prior litigation as of the policy effective date and all future claims arising from such litigation." Maryland asserted that the exclusion applied because the underlying plaintiffs had sought relief from the Board of Assessors, the Appellate Tax Board and the Massachusetts Appeals Court on matters relating to the costs of demolition.

The town argued that due process claims alleged by the underlying plaintiffs under §1983 were different from and unrelated to the prior litigation involving tax abatement. The underlying plaintiffs alleged that the town demolished the remains of the property without proper notice, imposed an illegal lien on the property, added non-existent debt to the real estate tax bill, forced them to pay an illegal special assessment, and refused to return the special assessment.

The United States District Court held that the § 1983 claims 'arose from" the prior litigation, so that the exclusion applied.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

US District Court holds that continuing violation of rights occurred at the time of the original violation

In 2006, a house owned by the underlying plaintiffs was damaged by a fire. They later filed a complaint against the town of Saugus alleging that the town unlawfully demolished the house and in 2007 illegally collected costs associated with the demolition. The town sought coverage for the claim from Zurich Casualty, who denied any duty to defend.

The Zurich policy was an occurrence policy in effect from July 1, 2009 to July 1, 2010. The town argued that there was a claim of an independent due process violation (failure to abate the costs paid by the underlying plaintiffs to the town).

In Saugus v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., __ F.2d __, 2011 WL 2311873 (D. Mass.), the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts held that the occurrence was the actions of the town shortly after the fire, and continuing claims arising out of that occurrence did not affect the date of the occurrence. (I would have to give some thought to how that fits into a triggers of coverage analysis.) It also held that the claims were a known loss when the policy period began.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Appeals Court holds that 93A claim can proceed after insurer rectifies failure to pay PIP damages

Marie Chery was injured in a car accident while she was a passenger in a car insured by Metropolitan. She submitted her PIP claim to Met, which failed to pay the medical bills within the time prescribed by Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90 § 34M. Chery then sued for breach of the statute and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A.

Six months later Met paid the medical bills. It then moved for summary judgment on the ground that an insured cannot prevail on a PIP claim if the disputed amount is paid prior to judgment entering; and that the 93A claim should be dismissed because Chery suffered no damages.

Chery did not dispute the first assertion. (See my post on that issue here.) She argued that Met had not paid a bill she submitted after she filed the complaint. That argument was ineffective because she had never amended the complaint to include reference to that bill.

In Chery v. Metropolitan Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 79 Mass. App. Ct. 697 (2011), the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that her 93A claim could survive summary judgment. It held that Metropolitan has caused her injury by failing to settle her claim after its liability was reasonably clear and forcing her to bring suit to receive benefits to which she was entitled.

The court also found support in the record for the claim that Chery had suffered emotional distress from having to prosecute the lawsuit and concern for the effect the unpaid bills would have on her credit.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Risks of car-sharing

Hank Stern at InsureBlog has posted on the risks to car-owners who sign up with car-sharing companies, which coordinate the very short-term rental of private individuals' cars to local people who need to, say, make a grocery run. (These companies should not be confused with Zipcar, which rents out its own cars.)

I strongly agree with Hank's basic point, which is that you should be cautious about insurance issues before signing up with a car-sharing company, because there may be no coverage under your policy if the car is involved in an accident while rented out.

Hank points out that one car-sharing company states that it provides liability coverage to renters, and therefore presumably not to the owners. If he's right then the car-sharing company has demonstrated a shocking lack of judgment, and no one should sign up with it. It is not worth the risk.