Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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State Farm Fire and Casualty Company ("State Farm"), a defendant below, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to challenge Clarke Circuit Court's failure to dismiss the underlying action or to enter a judgment in its favor on the claims of the plaintiffs, Samuel Boykin, Lucretia Boykin, Reginald Berry, and Ida Berry (collectively referred to as "the respondents"). Specifically, State Farm contended respondents' claims were barred by section 27-23-2, Ala. Code 1975 ("the direct-action statute). In denying the writ, the Supreme Court found it “never recognized an exception to the general rule that would permit interlocutory review of a trial court's denial of a motion to dismiss or for a judgment on the pleadings for cases that turn on whether the plaintiff has stated a cognizable claim under the applicable law. We will not make an exception here. Accordingly, the petition is denied.” View "Ex parte State Farm Fire & Casualty Company." on Justia Law

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Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company ("Allstate") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Macon Circuit Court to grant Allstate’s request for a jury trial in a pending action there. In August 2013, a vehicle occupied by Danielle Carter was involved in an accident with a vehicle being driven by Alvin Lee Walker. Carter sued Walker, alleging negligence and wantonness in the operation of his vehicle. In the same action, Carter also sued her underinsured-motorist carrier, Allstate, seeking underinsured-motorist benefits. In her complaint, Carter demanded a jury trial. Likewise, Allstate demanded a jury in its answer to the complaint. Pursuant to Lowe v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 521 So. 2d 1309 (Ala. 1988), Allstate opted out of active participation in the litigation. Opting out under Lowe keeps the jury in a vehicle-accident action from learning that insurance coverage might be available to pay damages. As the trial date approached, Carter and Walker decided that they would rather try the case without a jury. Allstate, however, demanded a jury trial. The trial court denied Allstate's demand and set the case for a nonjury trial. The Supreme Court determined that Lowe demonstrated there was a strong policy in Alabama against tainting a jury with knowledge of the possible availability of insurance to cover a party's damages. “There is also a strong policy of preserving the right to have a jury determine the extent of a party's liability.” Accordingly, the Court held Allstate could insist that a jury determine liability and damages and, at the same time, keep its involvement from the jury pursuant to the opt-out procedure adopted in Lowe. View "Ex parte Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Company." on Justia Law

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GEICO Insurance Company appealed a trial court judgment entered in favor of plaintiffs Johnson Evans, Jimmy Smith, and Bernard Smith on plaintiffs' claims for damages resulting from an automobile accident caused by GEICO's insured, Bernard Grey. GEICO argued that the April 17, 2019, judgment entered against it was void because it did not receive notice of plaintiffs' claims against it or notice of the hearing on plaintiffs' claims. For their part, plaintiffs did not dispute that GEICO never received actual notice of any action pending against it in the present case. Instead, they argued GEICO had "constructive notice of potential litigation" because it had actual notice of Grey's accident involving plaintiffs -- which occurred in 2010 -- and that GEICO was aware that plaintiffs claimed to be injured by Grey's actions. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed with GEIDO that "constructive notice of potential litigation" clearly fell short of "even the most basic requirements of due process." Because it was undisputed GEICO never received notice of any claim pending against it, the April 17 judgment violated due process, and was therefore void. Because a void judgment would not support an appeal, the trial court was instructed to vacate its judgment, and GEICO's appeal was thus dismissed. View "GEICO Insurance Co. v. Evans" on Justia Law

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Liberty National Life Insurance Company and Marcus Rich sought mandamus relief to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court") to vacate its order denying their motions to transfer an action filed against them by Kenny and Margie Girdner to Elmore County and to enter an order transferring the action. According to the allegations in the Girdners' complaint, starting in 2017 Liberty National agent Rich came to their house in Wetumpka and offered to restructure their existing Liberty National life-insurance policies; Rich said the restructuring could save the Girdners money. The Girdners alleged that the policies were restructured under the assurances that their premiums would not increase substantially. In late March 2018, three different Liberty National agents met with the Girdners at their house to discuss fixing the "mess" Rich created with their policies. The Girdners alleged that they were given information at that meeting that indicated either that Rich did not know what he was doing or that Rich had intentionally allowed their policies to lapse in order to gain additional commission when new policies were issued. The Girdners again agreed to restructure the policies as the three agents recommended to have their policies reinstated. By September 2018, after Liberty National had failed to reinstate their insurance policies, the Girdners sued Liberty National and Rich alleging misrepresentation, suppression, deceit, unjust enrichment, negligent and/or wanton hiring, supervision, and training, breach of contract, conversion, and "negligent/wanton service." The Girdners asserted that venue was proper in Montgomery County under section 6-3-7(a)(1) and (3), Ala. Code 1975. The Girdners also stated Liberty National had a registered agent in Wetumpka, Elmore County, and that Rich was a resident of Butler County. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Liberty National and Rich demonstrated venue was improper in Montgomery County and was proper in Elmore County under sections 6-3-7(a)(1) and 6-3-2(a)(3), they demonstrated a clear legal right to have the underlying action transferred to Elmore County. View "Ex parte Liberty National Life Insurance Company and Marcus Rich." on Justia Law

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Dow Corning Corporation, Dow Corning Alabama, Inc., Rajesh Mahadasyam, Fred McNett, Zurich American Insurance Company, and National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa., petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the trial court to vacate an order, entered in a declaratory-judgment action, requiring disclosure of what the petitioners contended was information protected by the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine and to grant their motion for a protective order. In August 2011, Scotty Blue II was injured while working at a facility owned by Dow Corning Alabama. Blue's employer at the time of the accident was Alabama Electric Company, Inc., of Dothan ("Alabama Electric"), which was, pursuant to a contract with Dow Corning Alabama, installing a vacuum system at Dow Corning Alabama's facility. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that although the Dow parties sought contribution from Alabama Electric and National Trust, thereby raising an issue of whether a settlement with Blue was a good-faith, reasonable settlement, resolution of that issue did not require privileged information. The Court surmised the issue could be resolved by consideration of the nonprivileged materials generated in connection with Blue's personal-injury action. Thus, the Dow parties did not waive those protections by seeking indemnity. Accordingly, the Court granted the Dow parties' petition and directed the trial court to vacate its discovery order requiring disclosure of the requested information, and to enter an appropriate protective order. View "Ex parte Dow Corning Alabama, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Perry Circuit Court ("the trial court") to vacate its order denying Allstate's motion to transfer an action filed against it by Devin Harrison in Perry County to Shelby or Bibb County. Harrison, a resident of Bibb County, was driving an automobile in Perry County. The automobile was owned by Thomas Hobson, a resident of Bibb County ("Hobson"), and was insured by Allstate, whose principal place of business is in Shelby County. Dylan Gardner and Alexander Hobson, Hobson's grandson, were passengers in the vehicle Harrison was driving. While Harrison was driving, the automobile was involved in a single-vehicle accident. Gardner died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident, and Alexander Hobson was injured. Gardner's estate filed a wrongful-death action against Harrison and obtained a $2 million dollar judgment. At some point, Alexander Hobson also filed an action in the trial court against Harrison and Allstate seeking damages for injuries relating to the accident. In May 2018, Harrison filed the action underlying this petition in the trial court against Allstate in which he asserted claims of breach of contract and bad faith based on Allstate's alleged refusal to defend or indemnify him in the wrongful-death action. Allstate removed the action to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. After that court remanded the case to the trial court, Allstate filed a motion to transfer the action to Shelby County or Bibb County, arguing that venue in Perry County was improper. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded after review of the trial court record that Allstate demonstrated venue was improper in Perry County, and was proper in Shelby or Bibb County. The trial court was directed to vacate its order denying Allstate’s motion for a change of venue and to transfer the action. View "Ex parte Allstate Insurance Company." on Justia Law

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Zachariah Cowart ("Zachariah") accidentally ran over his wife Misty Cowart ("Misty"). Misty was partially compensated for her injuries under one provision of her automobile-insurance policy, and she sought to use the uninsured-motorist provision of the policy to make up the difference. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the insurer and upheld its denial of uninsured-motorist benefits to Misty. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that judgment, however, was not supported by the language of the policy. For that reason, and because there wer key factual questions that were unresolved, the Supreme Court reversed summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cowart v. GEICO Casualty Company" on Justia Law

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D.P.T. sought a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to rescind a discovery order that, D.P.T. asserted, required him to execute written authorizations allowing the respondents, D.P.T.'s insurers--United States Automobile Association, American Bankers Insurance of Florida, Inc., and American Collectors Insurance, LLC, to obtain records containing communications that he alleged were privileged under the psychotherapist-patient privilege. The insurers represented to the Alabama Supreme Court that they sought only D.P.T.'s "employment" records. In a rare move, the trial court itself filed a brief in response to the mandamus petition, in which it represented to the Supreme Court that it directed D.P.T. to execute an authorization allowing only the release of "employment" records. After review, the Supreme Court found D.P.T., who, as the petitioner, had the burden of establishing a clear legal right to the issuance of the writ of mandamus, did not demonstrate his "employment" records contained privileged communications. Thus, the Court denied the petition for mandamus relief. View "Ex parte D. P. T." on Justia Law

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Douglas Ghee, as the personal representative of the estate of Billy Fleming, appealed a circuit court order dismissing a wrongful-death claim brought against USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas ("Blue Advantage"). Fleming presented to the emergency department complaining of constipation and abdominal pain. He would ultimately need a colectomy, but the hospital informed him Blue Advantage had decided that a lower quality of care (continued non-surgical management) was more appropriate than the higher quality of care (surgery) that Fleming's surgeon felt was appropriate. Fleming and his family had multiple conversations with agents of Blue Advantage in an unsuccessful attempt to convince the company that the higher surgery was the more appropriate course of care. Ultimately, an agent of Blue Advantage suggested to Fleming that he return to the hospital in an attempt to convince hospital personnel and physicians to perform the surgery on an emergency basis. For five days, Fleming would present to the emergency room, each time he was treated by non-surgical means, then returned home. On the evening of July 15, 2013, Fleming's condition had deteriorated such that he had to be intubated. He died after midnight of septic shock due to a perforated sigmoid colon with abundant fecal material in the peritoneal cavity. A lawsuit was filed against Blue Advantage, asserting that the combined negligence of the hospitals and clinics involved and Blue Advantage, proximately caused Fleming's death. Because the trial court determined that Ghee's allegations against Blue Advantage as stated in the original complaint were defensively preempted by ERISA, the Alabama Supreme Court found Ghee should have had the right to amend his complaint to clarify his state-law claims. Because the Court concluded that Ghee should have been afforded the right to amend his complaint, it reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghee v. USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas" on Justia Law

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Defendant Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company ("Nationwide") appealed a judgment entered in favor of plaintiff The David Group, Inc. ("TDG"), which held TDG was entitled to coverage and indemnification under a commercial general- liability ("CGL") insurance policy issued by Nationwide. Under the terms of that CGL policy, Nationwide agreed to "pay those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of 'bodily injury' or 'property damage' to which this insurance applies." According to the policy, its coverage applied to "bodily injury" and "property damage" only if "[t]he 'bodily injury' or 'property damage' is caused by an 'occurrence.'" In October 2006, while TDG's CGL policy with Nationwide was in effect, Saurin and Valerie Shah purchased a newly built house from TDG. After they moved in, the Shahs began experiencing problems with their new house. Despite TDG's efforts at correcting the problems, however, in February 2008, the Shahs sued TDG. Although Nationwide initially defended TDG against the Shahs' action, Nationwide withdrew its defense after conducting its own investigation into the Shahs' allegations. It concluded that it had no duty either to defend or to indemnify TDG because, according to Nationwide, the damage the Shahs complained of did not constitute an "occurrence" so as to trigger coverage under the CGL policy. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in finding that TDG was entitled to coverage and indemnification under its CGL policy with Nationwide. Thus, the Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company v. The David Group, Inc." on Justia Law