Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law

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Plaintiff was injured in accident while working for Speed Mining LLC. Plaintiff and his wife (together, Plaintiffs) filed suit against Speed Mining. Plaintiffs also named as defendants related companies and individuals (collectively, the Baughan defendants). At the time of the accident, Speed Mining was a named insured on a workers’ compensation policy of insurance issued by Old Republic. Plaintiff received workers’ compensation benefits under Speed Mining’s workers’ compensation policy. Plaintiffs later amended their complaint to add a declaratory judgment action against Old Republic, as it had asserted a statutory subrogation lien with respect to any settlement obtained by Plaintiffs from the Baughan defendants. Old Republic asserted its own declaratory judgment action against Plaintiffs. The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. Old Republic subsequently filed a W. Va. R. Civ. P. 60(b) motion for relief from entry of judgment order. The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding (1) the circuit court erred in denying Old Republic’s Rule 60 motion; but (2) the circuit court correctly granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs because Old Republic’s claim for subrogation failed. View "Old Republic Ins. Co. v. O'Neal" on Justia Law

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William and Sarah Bassett, who were insured by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, alleged that State Farm engaged in unfair trade practices with regard to the Bassetts’ assertion of unfair trade practices. The Bassetts based their claim on the assertion that State Farm never properly offered additional uninsured coverage, as State Farm was statutorily required to do. The circuit court granted the Bassetts’ motion to compel answers to three interrogatories seeking the names, addresses and telephone numbers of State Farm insureds in West Virginia who may have experienced difficulties regarding their uninsured motorist coverage. State Farm filed this original proceeding in prohibition asking the Court to prohibit enforcement of its discovery order. The Supreme Court granted relief, as moulded, prohibiting enforcement of the order granting the Bassetts’ motion to compel, concluding that the circuit court erred by failing to bar the disclosure of the names, addresses and telephone numbers of State Farm’s other insureds. View "State ex rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Hon. Jeffrey D. Cramer" on Justia Law

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Respondent was injured in a car accident caused by a hit-and-run driver. Respondent filed an uninsured motorist suit against the unknown driver seeking damages. State Farm, Respondent’s uninsured motorists’ insurance carrier, defended the lawsuit. State Farm advanced Respondent $30,628 on her damages before trial, but after the jury returned a verdict for Respondent, the circuit court refused State Farm any credit against the final judgment for the advance payment. The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s judgment order, holding that the court erred (1) when it refused to deduct State Farm’s advance payment against the final judgment, and (2) in calculating prejudgment interest. Remanded. View "Doe v. Pak" on Justia Law

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U.S. Silica Company has been named as a defendant in numerous silica claims seeking damages for injuries allegedly caused by exposure to silica sand. When three policies of comprehensive general liability insurance purchased by U.S. Silica’s predecessor from the Travelers Indemnity Company were discovered, U.S. Silica informed Travelers of the silica claims and requested coverage and reimbursement under these Travelers policies. When it failed to receive a response, U.S. Silica filed a declaratory judgment against Travelers. The jury found that Travelers breached its insurance policies when it refused to pay U.S. Silica’s claims for insurance coverage for the silica lawsuits and that Travelers owed U.S. Silica $8 million as a result. The circuit court denied Travelers’ post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial and awarded U.S. Silica attorney’s fees and prejudgment interest. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that U.S. Silica failed to demonstrate that its explanation for its significant delay in notifying Travelers of the silica claims was reasonable, and therefore, U.S. Silica was not entitled to coverage under the subject Travelers policies. Remanded with directions to enter an order granting Travelers’ post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law. View "Travelers Indem. Co. v. U.S. Silica Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law

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Erie Insurance Property and Casualty Company submitted to the Virginia Insurance Commissioner a rate, form, and product filing seeking approval for a new product endorsement entitled Rate Protection Endorsement (RPE). The Commissioner approved the Erie filing, as amended. Respondent, an Erie insured, filed an administrative complaint against Erie seeking a determination as to whether the Commissioner’s approval of Erie’s RPE should be withdrawn. The Commissioner denied Respondent relief. The circuit court reversed, concluding that the Commissioner was statutorily required to withdraw approval of Erie’s RPE. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court engaged in an improper re-examination of Erie’s rate and form policy filing for its RPE that was approved by the Commissioner, and therefore, the circuit court erred in reversing the decision of the Commissioner. View "Erie Ins. Prop. & Cas. Co. v. King" on Justia Law

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Tenant died in a fire that he caused on property he rented from Landlords. Insurer paid Landlords, its insureds, for the property damage caused by the fire. Plaintiff, individually and in his capacity as the administrator of Tenant’s estate, filed a wrongful death claim against Landlords. Landlords filed an answer, which included a counterclaim filed by Insurer asserting a subrogation claim against Tenant’s estate for the proceeds Insurer paid to Landlord following the fire. The estate, in turn, argued that Tenant was an additional insured under Insurer’s homeowner’s policy and that Insurer could not seek subrogation against its own insured. Insurer filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Tenant was not an insured under the homeowner’s policy. The circuit court concluded that Tenant was an “equitable insured” of Landlord’s insurance policy and, therefore, Insurer could not maintain a subrogation action against tenant’s estate. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Insurer had a right of subrogation against Tenant where (1) Tenant was not a named or definitional insured of Landlord’s policy; (2) Tenant purchased his own renter’s insurance after being advised to do so by Landlord; and (3) the lease agreement stated that Tenant was solely responsible for any damage he caused to the property. View "Farmers & Mechanics Mut. Ins. v. Allen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law

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The underlying lawsuit arose out of Fred Hlad’s agreement to construct a house for Travis and Teresa Nelson. The Nelsons sued Hlad for breach of contract, various intentional tort claims, and negligence in constructing their house. Hlad had a commercial general liability (“CGL”) policy with Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company at all times relevant to this case. Nationwide provided Hlad a defense in the underlying lawsuit under a reservation of rights. Nationwide also intervened in the lawsuit and filed a complaint for declaratory relief to determine whether it had a duty to defend or indemnify Hlad. The circuit court denied Nationwide’s request for declaratory relief, finding that the CGL policy provided coverage to Hlad for any damages that may be recovered in the underlying lawsuit. Nationwide then petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition. The Supreme Court granted Nationwide’s requested writ, holding (1) most of the claims asserted by the Nelsons did not trigger coverage under the CGL policy, and the claims that did trigger coverage were precluded by clear and unambiguous exclusions; and (2) therefore, Nationwide had no duty to provide coverage, defend, or indemnify Hlad in the underlying lawsuit. View "State ex rel. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Hon. Ronald E. Wilson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law

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The West Virginia State Treasurer separately filed sixty-three complaints against insurance companies doing business in West Virginia, alleging that the insurers unlawfully retained life insurance proceeds unclaimed by state residents in contravention of the West Virginia Uniform Unclaimed Property Act of 1997. The circuit court dismissed the complaints for failure to state a claim, concluding that the insurer should be permitted to retain the proceeds of the insured’s life insurance policy until someone having a contractually derived interest makes a formal claim in accordance with the policy. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Act requires insurers, as holders of property presumed abandoned, to account for and turn over that property to the Treasurer. View "State ex rel. Perdue v. Nationwide Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law

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A driver for Medford Trucking, LLC was injured while his truck was being loaded with coal by employees of Elk Run Coal Co. The driver sued Elk Run. A hauling and delivery agreement between Elk Run and Medford contained an indemnification clause that required Medford to purchase insurance. Accordingly, Medford purchased insurance from four different insurance companies. Elk Run asserted a third-party complaint against the insurers seeking a declaration that there was insurance coverage for the plaintiff’s claim against Elk Run under the policies. The circuit court granted partial summary judgment for the insurance companies, and Elk Run’s third-party complaints against the insurers were dismissed with prejudice. The Supreme Court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded, holding that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment to two of the insurers. Remanded. View "Elk Run Coal Co. v. Canopius US Ins., Inc." on Justia Law

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American Towers LLC hired BPI, Inc., a West Virginia contractor, to construct a cell tower and cell tower compound in Kentucky. The access road collapsed within one year after the completion of the project. American Towers filed a civil action against BPI. BPI filed a cross-claim against Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, claiming that BPI’s potential liability was covered under the commercial general liability policy it had purchased from Nationwide. Nationwide sought a declaration that it was not obligated to insure BPI for this incident. The determinative issues in this case depended upon the application of West Virginia law regarding BPI’s insurance policy covering property damage caused by an “occurrence.” Under Cherrington v. Erie Insurance Property & Casualty Co., issued by the Supreme Court after American Towers filed the underlying civil action against BPI, held that defective workmanship may qualify as an occurrence, allowing resulting damages to be covered under a policy such as the policy at issue in this case. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky requested the Supreme Court to answer the question of whether the decision in Cherrington applies retroactively. The Supreme Court held that Cherrington applies retroactively. Remanded. View "BPI, Inc. v. Nat’l Mut. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law