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Archive for the ‘Insurance Coverage/Bad Faith’ Category

Need a Lyft? Georgia Court of Appeals Decision Raises Coverage Questions for Ridesharing Services and Their Drivers

Posted on: February 19th, 2018

By: Connor M. Bateman

Most personal automobile insurance policies exclude coverage for damages that result from the ownership or operation of a vehicle used as a “public or livery conveyance.” Although typically undefined in the policy, this phrase has generally been understood to encompass vehicles that are “used indiscriminately in conveying the public, rather than being limited to certain persons and particular occasions or governed by special terms.”

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently weighed in on the scope of this exclusion in Haulers Insurance Co. v. Davenport.  In Davenport, the plaintiff sustained injuries in a car accident, sued the other driver, and served his uninsured motorist carrier (Haulers) with a copy of the complaint. At the time of the collision, the plaintiff was giving a ride to a female friend who would occasionally pay the plaintiff to drive her into town. There was no evidence, however, that the plaintiff ever offered paid rides to the general public. The Court of Appeals rejected Haulers’ argument that the policy’s public or livery exclusion barred coverage, reasoning that the exclusion was inapplicable absent evidence that the plaintiff “used his vehicle indiscriminately to transport members of the general public for hire, or regularly rented out his vehicle for hire.” The court recognized, however, that the exclusion would apply in cases where the driver “presents his services indiscriminately to the general public for hire.”

In light of the rising popularity of Transportation Network Companies (“TNCs”) such as Lyft and Uber, the coverage issues presented by this oft-forgotten exclusion should be carefully reexamined. TNC drivers, who use their personal vehicles to transport passengers, will often have no coverage under their personal policies due to the public or livery conveyance exclusion. This exclusion clearly applies to drivers actively transporting passengers and may even be triggered when the driver is simply using the ridesharing application to “troll” for potential customers. While some of these gaps have been addressed by commercial insurance policies provided by the TNCs, drivers may still be left without coverage in certain situations. For instance, although TNCs typically provide liability coverage for a driver who has the app turned on and is waiting to accept a ride, the TNC policies will not likely cover damages caused by someone or something else during that initial period. To account for this, the TNCs suggest that such damages may be covered by the at-fault driver’s policy or the TNC driver’s personal policy. However, the public or livery conveyance exclusion often extends to uninsured motorist, collision, and comprehensive coverage. And because courts have held that the public or livery conveyance exclusion applies when drivers “present their services” to the general public, the exclusion is arguably triggered even when the TNC driver is merely waiting for the application to connect to a customer.

Although the reach of this exclusion has yet to be fully examined in the context of ride-sharing services, these and other coverage issues will likely continue to arise. For additional information, please contact Connor Bateman at [email protected].

Cumis Counsel Limited: Insurer-Appointed Counsel Requires Actual Conflict of Interest

Posted on: February 9th, 2018

By: David G. Molinari

The California Third District Court of Appeals has ruled that the right to Cumis counsel, independent counsel paid by the insurer (San Diego Federal Credit Union v. Cumis Insurance Soc’y, 162 Cal. App. 3d 358 (1984)) requires an actual as opposed to a potential conflict.  In Centex Homes v. Saint Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company, (Case C081266, January 22, 2018) the Court of Appeals concluded that Cumis counsel is not required absent a reasonable likelihood of an actual conflict when an additional insured carrier accepts a tender of a developer/general contractor’s defense subject to a reservation of rights and appoints defense counsel.

In Centex Homes the homeowners sued developer for construction defects.  Developer tendered the defense to the insurer of a subcontractor involved in the project as an additional insured.  The insurer provided an attorney to defend the developer under a reservation of rights against any claims not covered by the subcontractor’s policy.  Developer hired their own attorney who filed a cross-complaint against the subcontractors, including the subcontractor under whose policy the developer was being defended.  The developer argued that the case presented a “potential” conflict of interest that required the appointment of independent counsel under Cumis.

The Third District Court of Appeals ruled otherwise.  The court concluded to the extent Cumis suggests a potential conflict arises wherever the insurer reserved its right to deny coverage being sufficient to require the appointment of independent counsel, the plain language of California Civil Code Section 2860 limits the Cumis right.  Under Civil Code Section 2860 the conflict must be actual, not merely potential.  The insurer-appointed counsel in Centex Homes was in no position to control the outcome in the case which focused on causation.  On the issue of causation, the insurer and the developer had the same interests defending the underlying claim.

Further, the developer argued independent counsel was required because the insurer-appointed counsel had a conflict of interest under Rule 3-310 of the Rules of Professional Conduct: “Avoiding Representation of Adverse Interests.”  Again, the Court of Appeals determined otherwise.  The court concluded that while generally conceptualized, defense counsel represents the interests of both the insurer and the insured, they are not necessarily both clients in the matter as contemplated under the Rules of Professional Conduct for conflicts of interest.  As the Court of Appeal viewed Rule 3-310 (C), the rule was not intended to apply to the relationship between an insurer and a member of the bar when the insurer’s interest is as an indemnity provider and not a direct party to the action.  In Centex the court concluded there was no actual conflict of interest presented in the case.

Centex Homes may signal the limitation and narrowing of the right to independent counsel in construction litigation.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact David Molinari at [email protected].

Insurer Entitled To Prejudgment Attachment Against Insured Upon Establishing Probable Validity of Coverage and Recession Defenses

Posted on: January 29th, 2018

By: Rebecca J. Smith

A California Appellate Court recently ruled that an insurer was entitled to a prejudgment attachment on the property of its insured when the insurer provided what the court deemed to be ample evidence to support its argument that an exclusion in a policy barred coverage under the intentional non-compliance exclusion.

Allied World National Assurance Company (“Allied”) issued a primary environmental liability insurance policy for $2 Million and an umbrella policy for $5 Million to Santa Clara Waste Water (“SCWW”). Intentional non-compliance provisions were included which excluded coverage for damage resulting from the intentional disregard of or deliberate willful or dishonest non-compliance with laws or regulations.  In 2014, a huge explosion at the SCWW plant occurred and SCWW made a claim to Allied for payment to clean up the facility from the damages resulting from the chemical spill, explosion and subsequent fire.

Allied initially denied the claim; however, ultimately agreed to pay $2.5 million to cover the facility owner’s cleanup costs with the caveat that the plant owner would have to reimburse the insurer if a court later determined that the policy’s coverage did not apply.  SCWW then sued for the full amount, triggering Allied to file a cross-complaint.  Allied then sought a prejudgment attachment against SCWW for the $2.5 Million plus costs and interest to protect their ability to recover from SCWW should they prevail at trial.  The application for a right to attach order and writ of attachment was granted by the trial court.

Under the statute governing attachments, a party seeking a prejudgment attachment must demonstrate the probable validity of prevailing on its claim.  In affirming that decision, the Second District Court of Appeal recognized that where an insurer pays an amount not covered under the policy, it has a right that is implied at law under an unjust enrichment theory.  The court declared that Allied had established the probable validity under both their unjust enrichment and recession claim because substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that SCWW failed to report their Hazardous Materials Plan under the Health and Safety Code, concealed chemicals from inspectors and misrepresented and concealed a material fact – that being that they did not accept, process, transport or discharge hazardous waste.

Accordingly, upon return to the trial court, Allied may attach the property of SCWW pending ultimate determination of the action for the amount they paid, plus pre-judgment interest.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Rebecca Smith at [email protected].

Look Mom, No Hands!

Posted on: January 24th, 2018

By: Seth F. Kirby

On January 22, 2018 a Tesla Model S slammed into a parked fire truck on California’s 405 near Culver City.  The driver of the Tesla stated that prior to the accident he had the car’s autopilot system engaged.  This is just the most recent in a series of accidents in which Tesla’s autopilot system has been implicated.   At present, Tesla’s autopilot system is limited to what it refers to as Traffic-Aware Cruise Control.  This feature, which is also provided by other car manufactures, allows the car to maintain a lane and speed up or slow down depending upon traffic conditions.  The system relies upon driver input to observe and avoid stationary objects, which may be the true culprit that resulted in the recent crash.  Interestingly, all Teslas are equipped to function autonomously, taking its passengers to a destination with no human interaction.  Such features are not yet enabled due to the need to obtain regulatory approval, and the features of the current systems have been changed several times to encourage drivers to be attentive when behind the wheel (i.e. requiring the driver to maintain their hands on the wheel).

The advent of various levels of autonomous driving presents challenges and opportunities for the insurance industry.  Theoretically, the implementation of autonomous vehicles over the next decade or longer will result in fewer accidents and injuries as computers will be more reliable and predictable drivers.  Of course, machines can have errors, and on the road at 60+ mph, errors can have drastic consequences.  This begs the question.  As vehicles become autonomous, who will the auto carrier be insuring?  The easy answer is that the policy is issued to the individual that owns the car, so clearly the carrier is insuring the individual for their potential liability. In many states, however, the insurance “follows the car” and covers bodily injury and property damage arising from the use of the vehicle no matter who (or what) is operating the vehicle.  If the autonomous car makes a mistake, the law presently considers the human driver to be responsible for the vehicle’s operation and the liability is placed on the driver.  That seems reasonable in our present environment in which driver interaction is required for the system to operate.  It may seem less reasonable once the systems become fully automatic.  At that point, the individual’s carrier is essentially insuring the machine and its software, effectively turning auto liability policies into product liability policies.

In the short term, the transition between human and computer controlled driving presents problems as it can lull the driver into a false sense of safety.  It appears that when the driver has less interaction with the driving process their attention wanes and they may fail to avoid obvious hazards.  This is no different than the problems caused by other forms of distracted driving (texting, eating, tuning the radio), it is just a new dynamic that is being added to the roadway.  Eventually, the human element may be removed from the equation, but whether that will result in a net improvement in vehicle safety remains to be seen.  I fully suspect that many aspects of auto liability insurance will need to evolve as technology begins to take over the wheel.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Seth Kirby at [email protected].

Pre-Suit is the New Lawsuit: Florida Supreme Court holds Insurance Carrier Had Duty to Defend Policy Holder during Pre-Suit Proceedings

Posted on: December 22nd, 2017

By: Jake Carroll

Given the pace of construction in Florida over the past three decades, it should come as no surprise that the Sunshine State has a robust statutory scheme for construction defect claims. Indeed, Florida’s Construction Defects Statute, Chapter 558, Florida Statutes (“FCDS”), outlines a complex pre-suit procedure requiring owners to send a “notice of claim” to contractors while identifying any alleged construction and/or design defects in “reasonable detail” before a lawsuit for such defects can be brought. The FCDS also details procedures for building inspection, destructive testing, obtaining construction documents and maintenance records, and utilizing consultants. Under the FCDS, contractors are required to provide a written response to the notice, to accept or dispute each reported defect, and may include offers to repair, partial payment, or partial settlement.

Contractors may represent themselves during the notice process, but do so at their own peril. Instead, contractors are encouraged to retain legal counsel as soon as possible following receipt of a 558 Notice.

However, in the case of Altman Contractors, Inc. (Altman) v. Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Company (C&F), 42 Fla. L. Weekly S960b, Altman forwarded the notices to its carrier (C&F), seeking coverage and defense under its CGL policy. C&F initially denied Altman’s request on the basis that the Chapter 558 process did not trigger the duty to defend.

The Florida Supreme Court disagreed with C&F, holding that the insurance carrier’s duty to defend may be triggered when a contractor receives a construction defect notice, depending on the language of the policy and the allegations in the notice. The ruling impacts all stakeholders in the construction industry, including owners, condominium associations, developers, contractors, and insurers.

The decision encourages insurer participation in the pre-suit process for resolving defect disputes and may result in more out-of-court resolutions—avoiding complex and expensive litigation that burdens litigants and the court system.

Insurance trade groups warn the decision could drive up premiums for some CGL policies within the construction industry, while other industry professionals note the potential for bad faith claims if carriers refuse to participate in Chapter 558 proceedings where a construction defect claimant is seeking covered damages from the policyholder.

At the very least, contractors should review their CGL policies, comply with the terms of the policies, and forward any FCDS notices to their carriers before issuing a response. Depending on the specific policy language, costs incurred during the Chapter 558 process may be the insurance carrier’s responsibility.

It is also worth noting that parties may choose to opt out of FCDS, if agreed to in writing beforehand. Such provisions are commonly included in construction contracts.

Jake Carroll represents owners, contractors, and design professionals in all construction matters including contract negotiations, payment disputes, and claims resulting from delays, contract terminations, and defective work. Mr. Carroll is licensed to practice in both Georgia and Florida. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Carroll at [email protected].