Monday, September 7, 2015

Massachusetts Appeal Court holds that excess insurer is not required to pay until primary insurer becomes legally obligated to pay primary limit

In 2005 Ridgewood purchased a $15 million primary insurance policy from The Hartford and a $10 million excess insurance policy from Liberty Mutual.

The plaintiffs filed suit against Ridgewood, alleging breach of contractual and fiduciary duties.  The plaintiffs and Ridgewood settled the case for a stipulated judgment of $20.5 million.  The settlement agreement provided that The Hartford and Ridgewood would pay jointly to the plaintiffs $11 million in exchange for the plaintiffs' promise not to sue Ridgewood for the remaining amount.  The Hartford paid $7 million to the settlement and $2.5 million in attorney's fees; Ridgewood paid $4 million to the settlement.

Ridgewood assigned all of its rights, claims and interest in the Liberty Mutual policy to the plaintiffs. 

Liberty Mutual refused to pay any part of the claim, asserting that its policy provides coverage only when the primary insurer has paid the full amount of the underlying limit of liability as loss, and that that condition had not been met. 

Under the Liberty Mutual policy there was coverage "when the underlying limit of liability is exhausted by reason of the insurers of the underlying policies paying or being held liable to pay in legal currency the full amount of the underlying limit of liability as loss."  "Loss" was defined as "sums which the insured parties are legally obligated to pay solely as a result of any claim insured by this policy, including claims expenses, compensatory damages, settlement amounts, and legal fees and costs awarded  pursuant to judgments." 

In Anile v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, 2015 WL 4937671 (Mass. App. Ct.) (unpublished), the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that under New Jersey law the language of the Liberty Mutual policy unambiguously provided that excess coverage will be allowed only in the event that The Hartford had actually paid, or was legally obligated to pay, the entirely of the $15 million primary coverage limit. 

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