Articles Posted in Insurance Law

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Georgia Urology, P.A., and several of its member physicians filed objections to challenge a $124 million attorney fee awarded by the Jefferson Alabama Circuit Court to class counsel as part of the settlement of Johnson v. Caremark Rx, LLC ("the Caremark class action). After the trial court overruled their objections and its judgment approving the settlement became final, the objectors appealed the attorney fee to this Court. Caremark Rx bought MedPartners; MedPartners was the subject of dozens of securities-fraud lawsuits alleging that it had made false statements regarding its financial condition and anticipated future performance. Many of those lawsuits were eventually consolidated into a class action. In 1999, the MedPartners class action was settled for $56 million based on MedPartners' assertions that the negotiated settlement exhausted its available insurance coverage and that it possessed limited other assets it could use to pay a larger award or settlement. Post-settlement, however, it was revealed in unrelated litigation that MedPartners actually held an excess-insurance policy providing unlimited coverage during the period in which the alleged fraud had been committed. In 2003, the Caremark class action was initiated against MedPartners' corporate successor Caremark Rx, and its previous insurer asserting fraud and suppression claims based on the $56 million settlement agreed to in the MedPartners class action. The objectors appealed the fee award to the Alabama Supreme Court, arguing that they had been given insufficient opportunity to object to class counsel's requested attorney fee inasmuch as their objections were due before class counsel's attorney-fee application was filed, and that the attorney fee ultimately awarded was excessive. The Supreme Court vacated the order entered by the trial court awarding class counsel an attorney fee of $124 million. On remand, class counsel may file a new attorney-fee application, including more detailed information regarding the time expended in this case and how that time was spent. The objectors would then be given a reasonable opportunity to review that application and may, if they still have objections to class counsel's new application, file those objections with the trial court. After the trial court considers those objections and enters a new order making an award of attorney fees, any party with a grievance may file a new appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. View "Walker v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Defendant Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut ("Travelers") appealed a circuit court’s denial of its post-judgment motion seeking to set aside judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff Angela Worthington. Worthington was a passenger in a vehicle being driven by her husband. A friend of the Worthingtons and the Worthingtons' two minor children were also passengers in the vehicle. While the Worthingtons' vehicle was stopped at a nonfunctioning traffic light, it was struck in the rear by a vehicle being operated by Camille Thomas. Worthington and the other occupants in her vehicle were injured as a result of the accident. At the time of the accident, the company Worthington's husband owned had a comprehensive insurance policy with Travelers that included uninsured-motorist ("UM") and underinsured-motorist ("UIM") coverage. The Worthingtons sued Thomas and Travelers; the complaint included a UM/UIM claim against Travelers. After review of the claims Travelers made on appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court determined Travelers did not establish that the trial court erred in denying the post-judgment motion, and affirmed. View "Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut v. Worthington" on Justia Law

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Hershel Easterling, both individually and as the personal representative of the estate of Charlotte Easterling, appealed the grant of a summary judgment in favor of Progressive Specialty Insurance Company ("Progressive") on his claims seeking uninsured/underinsured-motorist ("UIM") benefits. In December 2014, Hershel and his wife, Charlotte Easterling, were injured when their vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by Ashley McCartney. In April 2015, the Easterlings sued McCartney, alleging she behaved negligently and/or wantonly at the time of the accident. The Easterlings' complaint also named Progressive, their insurer, as a defendant and included a count seeking to recover UIM benefits from Progressive. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings, finding that by virtue of her bankruptcy filing, McCartney was not been relieved of legal liability for the harm she caused Hershel; instead, Hershel could prove the merits of his claim but was merely prevented by law from seeking to collect damages from McCartney for that harm even after his legal entitlement to recover those damages has been established. Any injunction against proceeding directly against the debtor, therefore, in no way extends to Hershel's own insurer. The trial court erred in entering a summary judgment in favor of Progressive on Hershel's UIM claim. View "Easterling v. Progressive Specialty Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Pharmacist Joseph McNamara, Jr. appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Benchmark Insurance Company ("Benchmark") in Benchmark's indemnity action against McNamara. Benchmark commenced the indemnity action in an effort to recover funds expended to settle a medical-malpractice action brought against Southern Medical, Inc., Benchmark's insured and McNamara's employer. The medical-malpractice action was brought against Southern Medical by Ricky Avant and Kim Avant and was based, at least in part, on the alleged tortious acts and omissions of McNamara. Because the act complained of occurred in January 2010 and Benchmark sued McNamara in February 2014, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded Benchmark's indemnity action was time-barred under section 6-5-482, Ala. Code 1975. Thus, the trial court erred in entering a summary judgment in favor of Benchmark and in denying McNamara's motion for a summary judgment. View "McNamara v. Benchmark Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Dow Corning Alabama, Inc., Dow Corning Corporation, Rajesh Mahadasyam, Fred McNett, Zurich American Insurance Company ("Zurich"), and National Union Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA ("National Union"), all petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to transfer the underlying declaratory-judgment action to the Montgomery Circuit Court pursuant to Alabama's forum non conveniens statute. Dow Corning Alabama hired Alabama Electric Company, Inc., an independent contractor, to perform the electrical installation of a vacuum system at Dow Corning Alabama's facility in Montgomery. The contract contained a forum-selection clause. An employee of Alabama Electric was injured while working at Dow Corning Alabama's Montgomery facility. The employee sued the Dow defendants, which in turn tendered their request for defense and indemnity to Alabama Electric and National Trust, both of whom denied coverage. Zurich and National Union settled the Montgomery lawsuit through mediation, and the case was ultimately dismissed. Later, Alabama Electric and National Trust filed an action with the Houston Circuit Court seeking certain declarations concerning their duties and obligations under the master contract and/or the National Trust policy regarding the settlement. The Dow defendants moved to transfer the declaratory judgment action from Houston to Montgomery County pursuant to the forum noon conveniens statute. The Alabama Supreme Court denied the writ application, finding the Dow parties did not satisfy their burden at the trial-court level of demonstrating that a change in venue from Houston County to Montgomery County was warranted under the interest-of-justice prong. View "Ex parte Dow Corning Alabama, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant Alfa Mutual Insurance Company sought mandamus relief when the Pickens Circuit Court denied its motion to transfer the underlying lawsuit to the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court. In 2016, Richard Holley, a resident of Pickens County, was involved in a motor-vehicle accident in Tuscaloosa County. The other vehicle was driven by David Evans, who was uninsured. Emergency-medical-services personnel treated Holley at the scene and then transported him to DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa. Law-enforcement personnel who were based in Tuscaloosa County also responded to the accident. After the accident, Holley received follow-up treatment from three medical providers in Tuscaloosa and one medical provider in Mississippi. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion in denying Alfa's motion for a change of venue based on the interest-of-justice prong of the forum non conveniens statute. Accordingly, the Court granted Alfa's petition for the writ of mandamus and direct the trial court, in the interest of justice, to vacate its order denying the motion to transfer the action to the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court and to enter an order transferring the case from the Pickens Circuit Court to the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court. View "Ex parte Alfa Mutual Insurance Company." on Justia Law

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Lamar Ragland appeals the dismissal of his bad-faith claim against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. Ragland sought punitive damages from State Farm based on State Farm's alleged bad-faith failure to pay and related failure to subject his claim for underinsured-motorist ("UIM") benefits to a cognitive review. State Farm moved to dismiss Ragland's claims, because Ragland had filed a separate civil action in 2014 that had not yet been resolved. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed Ragland's claim as being from a nonfinal judgment. View "Ragland v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Three matters consolidated for review resulted from separate automobile accidents between either an Allstate or a GEICO insured with Underinsured-Motorist (UIM) coverage and allegedly underinsured tortfeasors. In each case, it was undisputed that the applicable insurance policy contained a "consent-to-settle" clause requiring the provision of notice to, and the consent of, the affected insurer prior to the insured's settlement of any claims against the alleged underinsured tortfeasors and/or a release of the tortfeasors' liability. After review of the specific facts of each case, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that because the insurers, in following the express directives of the Court, were deprived of their contractual rights as well as the benefit of the procedures set forth in the controlling case law, the insurers demonstrated a clear legal right to their requested relief. In case no. 1150511 and 1151266, the Court directed the applicable circuit court to vacate its respective orders purporting both to "enforce" the pro tanto settlement agreements against the insurer's consent and to dismiss the tortfeasors. In case no. 1150269, the Court dismissed the petition. View "Ex parte GEICO Indemnity Company." on Justia Law

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The Alabama Supreme Court granted Alfa Mutual Insurance Company's petition for a writ of certiorari with respect to the issue whether University of South Alabama Medical Center Hospital's (USA) hospital lien was impaired and the amount of damages recoverable by USA from Alfa for that impairment. The Court reversed the Court of Civil Appeals insofar as it affirmed the circuit court's ruling that the amount of damages recoverable from Alfa was an amount equal to the entirety of USA's reasonable charges, irrespective of the amount that was otherwise owed by Alfa under the terms of its policy, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Alfa Mutual Insurance Company." on Justia Law

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Laura Miller appeals from a summary judgment entered by the Jefferson Circuit Court ("the circuit court") in favor of the City of Birmingham ("the City"), Sandy Roberts, and Alice Crutchfield (collectively, "the City defendants"). Robert Miller, Laura's husband, was employed by the City as a firefighter. Unum Life Insurance Company of America ("Unum") issued a group life and accidental death and dismemberment policy. According to the summary of benefits, the policy included different life-insurance benefits for active employees and for retired employees. Under the policy, as an active employee, the City paid Robert's insurance premiums, thereby entitling him to a life-insurance benefit of $151,000. However, if Robert were to retire, he would be required to pay his life-insurance premiums and would be entitled to only a $50,000 life-insurance benefit. The summary of benefits specified that, in order to be eligible for a waiver of the life-insurance premiums, the insured had to "be disabled through your elimination period," which was nine months. In 2012, Robert was diagnosed with brain cancer and soon became unable to perform the duties of his job. Laura contended once the Millers learned of Robert's condition, they "sought to obtain information about [Mr. Miller's] life insurance benefit and all other benefits that might be available." The Millers did not have a copy of the policy or the summary of benefits at that time. The Millers and Ed Bluemly, Mrs. Miller's brother-in-law, met with Sandy Roberts, the assistant benefit administrator and the pension coordinator for the Jefferson County Personnel Board, and Alice Crutchfield, a personnel technician for the Jefferson County Personnel Board, to learn about the available benefits. The Millers asked for a copy of the policy, and there was a dispute over whether the Crutchfield gave the Millers a copy. The Millers ultimately sued the City for negligence with respect to the policy and collection of the benefits to which Robert was entitled. After review of this matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's summary judgment in favor of the City insofar as the circuit court based its summary judgment in favor of the City on the City defendants' argument that the City was entitled to immunity from Laura's claim alleging wanton and reckless misrepresentation. However, the Court reversed the circuit court's summary judgment in favor of the City defendants in all other respects. The Case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Miller v. City of Birmingham et al." on Justia Law