Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Insurance Law
Brill v. Mid-Century Insurance Co.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of summary judgment to Mid-Century in an insurance coverage dispute over the amount Mid-Century owed plaintiff after her husband was struck and killed by an underinsured motor (UIM) vehicle. The court held that the fact that Mid-Century was licensed to write policies in Minnesota, combined with the husband's subsequent move to and residency there, does not dictate that the Mid-Century policy must be reformed to calculate UIM coverage under Minnesota's add-on approach. Consistent with the plain language of the statute, the Minnesota Supreme Court has held that in order for Minnesota law to mandate that an insurer provide uninsured coverage consistent with that required by Section 65B.49 of the Minnesota Statutes, the insurance policy had to be renewed, delivered, or issued for delivery, or executed in Minnesota. Because Mid-Century issued the policy to plaintiff and her husband when they resided in Wisconsin and the policy was not renewed after the husband's move, section 65B.50's add-on approach to calculating UIM coverage is not required. Therefore, the court held that the plain language of the policy controls, which dictates a limits-less-paid approach to calculating UIM coverage. View "Brill v. Mid-Century Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Hanover Insurance Co. v. Dunbar Mechanical Contractors, LLC
Dunbar, a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB), was awarded an Army Corps of Engineers ditch and tributary project in Arkansas. Dunbar then hired a subcontractor, Harding Enterprises, to work on the project. After Harding Enterprises defaulted, Dunbar made a demand on the bond guaranteed by Hanover, which Hanover denied. Hanover then filed suit seeking a declaration that it had no obligations under the bond and seeking to have the bond rescinded based on illegality of the subcontract. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Hanover, holding that the district court erroneously concluded that the subcontract was undisputedly in violation of 13 C.F.R. 125.6(b)(2) because the percentage that Dunbar spent on contract performance relative to the prime contract price could not be conclusively ascertained until conclusion of performance of the prime contract. The court also held that the potential that Hanover may have liability under the False Claims Act if it were to perform under the bond does not justify discharging Hanover from its obligations and rescinding the contract. View "Hanover Insurance Co. v. Dunbar Mechanical Contractors, LLC" on Justia Law
Vogt v. State Farm Life Insurance Co.
Over 25,000 life insurance policyholders filed a class action, alleging that State Farm impermissibly included non-listed factors in calculating Cost of Insurance (COI) fees assessed on life insurance policies. After the jury returned a $34 million verdict in the class's favor, State Farm and the named plaintiff appealed. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment with respect to State Farm's appeal, holding that the phrase "based on" in the COI provision is at least ambiguous and thus must be construed against State Farm. Therefore, the district court did not err in construing the policy language in this manner and granting summary judgment to plaintiff on issues of liability. The court also held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to plaintiff on State Farm's affirmative defense of limitations. Furthermore, the court held that the district court did not err in certifying the class or in denying State Farm's motion to decertify the class. The court also held that the district court did not err in denying State Farm's motion for judgment as a matter of law based on the alleged insufficiency of the damages models as evidence of damages suffered by class members. Finally, the court rejected State Farm's claims of evidentiary errors, and challenges to the judgment in favor of the named plaintiff. However, the court reversed and remanded with respect to the named plaintiff's cross appeal, holding that the district court erroneously denied plaintiff's motion for an award of prejudgment interest because the damages model does not include prejudgment interest for the entire time up until judgment. View "Vogt v. State Farm Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law
American Family Mutual Insurance Co. v. Lehenbauer Farms, Inc.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of American Family in a declaratory judgment regarding American Family's duty to defend and indemnify Mid-American. American Family had issued a commercial general liability insurance policy (CGL) to Mid-America. The court held that American Family has no duty to defend or indemnify Mid-American, because Mid-American's alleged defective construction work in the underlying suit is not considered an "occurrence" in the policy. Rather, Lehenbauer's damages are all the normal, expected consequence of MidAmerican's allegedly shoddy work and were the foreseeable or expected result of that work as a matter of law. Therefore, the court held that Mid-American's work causing the damages at issue is not "an accident" within the meaning of the CGL under Missouri law. Because there was no "accident" in this case, there is no "occurrence" and no possibility of coverage. View "American Family Mutual Insurance Co. v. Lehenbauer Farms, Inc." on Justia Law
Great West Casualty Co. v. Decker
After a truck driver filed claims against his employer's insurer to recover for an injury he suffered when loading a truck, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that Minnesota law does not invalidate the insurer's "moving property exclusion." In this case, because plaintiff was not occupying, entering into, or alighting from the truck, his injury did not arise out of the "maintenance or use" of the truck. Therefore, Minnesota law did not require the insurer to cover the employer's liability. View "Great West Casualty Co. v. Decker" on Justia Law
Murphy Oil Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co.
After Murphy Oil sold an oil refinery to Valero, a fire occurred on the property. Valero demanded indemnification from Murphy, and Murphy sought a defense from its general commercial liability insurer, Liberty Mutual. After Liberty Mutual refused, Murphy Oil filed suit for a declaratory judgment and damages. The Eighth Circuit held that the district court properly ruled that there is no possibility that the policy covers the property damage alleged in the complaint, and thus there is no duty to defend. In this case, Unigard Sec. Ins. Co. v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., 962 S.W.2d 735, 740 (Ark. 1998) (Unigard I) controls, because the statute of limitations for tort liability ran before Valero filed its complaint. Furthermore, like in Unigard I, any liability of Murphy Oil in the underlying suit represents the "economic loss" from Murphy Oil's breach of contract and is not covered by the policy. The court also held that the general contract liability exclusion specifically precludes coverage of the breach-of-contract claim, and exceptions to the contractual liability exclusion do not apply. Finally, the court rejected Murphy Oil's "customized" Alienated Premises Endorsement claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Liberty Mutual. View "Murphy Oil Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Joseph J. Henderson & Sons, Inc. v. Travelers Property Casualty Insurance Co.
After the City hired Henderson to design and install a bio-solids building, panels on the building's roof were damaged during a windstorm. Henderson filed a claim with Travelers, asserting that Travelers was required to cover the roof's damage under the City's builder's risk insurance policy with Travelers. The jury ultimately found in favor of Henderson, awarding damages and fees. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Travelers' motion for judgment as a matter of law, holding that the faulty workmanship exclusion does not include an anticoncurrent-cause provision; the windstorm and faulty workmanship operated in tandem to cause the resulting damage, and thus the windstorm and the faulty workmanship were two independent cause that contributed to the loss; and thus a reasonable juror could have found that faulty workmanship was not the sole proximate cause of the loss. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of Travelers' motion for a new trial or remittitur, holding that the district court did not plainly err in instructing the jury on the issue of proximate cause and the total award was not so excessive as to shock the judicial conscience. View "Joseph J. Henderson & Sons, Inc. v. Travelers Property Casualty Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Rose v. Estate of Joel S. Bernstein
Plaintiff filed suit against her ex-husband’s estate alleging that his life insurance proceeds rightly belong to her. The court held that the district court correctly determined that the Interspousal Agreement and the Final Judgment could not be orally amended. The court explained that, by its plain terms, the Interspousal Agreement requires any modification to be in writing and executed with the same formalities as the agreement. In this case, plaintiff had no proof any oral amendment to the Final Judgment related to the policy. Furthermore, New Jersey law automatically revokes the beneficiary designation on divorce unless the "express terms" of a court order say otherwise. Because plaintiff's affidavit cannot change the express terms of a court order and the court order does not expressly mention the policy, summary judgment was appropriate. View "Rose v. Estate of Joel S. Bernstein" on Justia Law
Argonaut Great Central Insurance Co. v. Lincoln County
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of judgment on the pleadings in favor of the county in a dispute regarding Argonaut's duty to defend the county against a civil rights lawsuit. Under Missouri law, the court held that Argonaut had a duty to defend the county. The court explained that the duty to defend is analyzed by comparing the language of the policy with the allegations in the complaint, and if the complaint alleges facts that merely give rise to a potential claim within coverage, the insurer has a duty to defend. In this case, the county procured insurance to shield itself against, among other things, possible constitutional claims against its officers and agents during the performance of their law enforcement duties. Therefore, there was a covered wrongful act under the policy during the time the policy was in effect. View "Argonaut Great Central Insurance Co. v. Lincoln County" on Justia Law
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Merrill
After a car accident killed the insured, her mother, and her son, the trustee sought underinsured motorist coverage for the son, who was not named as an insured on the policy. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings to State Farm. The Eighth Circuit had jurisdiction over the appeal because the notice of appeal designated the correct judgment and the parties have addressed the merits of the judgment on the pleadings in their brief. On de novo review, the court held that the son was an insured on the mother's policy and thus was ineligible for excess insurance protection under the insured's policy. View "State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Merrill" on Justia Law