Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Insurance Law
Crook v. Allstate Indemnity Company, et al.
Kevin Crook appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Allstate Indemnity Company ("Allstate Indemnity"), Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate Insurance"), and The Barker Agency (hereinafter collectively referred to as "the defendants"). Crook owns lake-front property in Tuscaloosa County. The property consists of a house, a bathhouse, a garage, a deck, and a boat dock. In 2006, Crook, through The Barker Agency, obtained property insurance on the house and other structures from Allstate Indemnity. Allstate Indemnity issued a policy to Crook ("the policy") and provided uninterrupted insurance coverage of Crook's house from 2006 through 2015. On February 12, 2015, Allstate Indemnity conducted an inspection of the property for underwriting purposes. After the inspection, on February 23, 2015, The Barker Agency sent Crook a letter with the results, finding no "issues that impact [Crook's] current coverage, and you do not need to do anything further. ...our inspection... focused only on identifying certain types of hazards or conditions that might impact your future insurance coverage. It may not have identified some other hazards of conditions on your property." In April 2015, a storm damaged the deck and the boat dock. Ultimately, Crook sued defendants for breach of contract, bad-faith failure to pay a claim, negligent/wanton procurement of insurance, and estoppel, all relating to the policy's coverage of the storm damage. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants and affirmed. View "Crook v. Allstate Indemnity Company, et al." on Justia Law
Allstate Insurance Company v. Hicks
This matter went before the Alabama Supreme Court on consolidated appeals stemming from an action filed by Nancy Hicks for injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Hicks appealed when the trial court denied her motion for a new trial. Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate") cross-appealed, challenging the trial court's denial of its motion for a partial judgment as a matter of law on the issue of causation of Hicks's injuries. By refusing to allow the jury to consider the mortality table, the trial court hindered the jury's ability to determine the appropriate amount of damages to which Hicks was entitled in a trial in which the only issue was the amount of damages. Because the trial court erroneously determined that the mortality table could not be admitted into evidence, the trial court's denial of Hicks's motion for a new trial was reversed. Because of the Court's holding on this issue, it pretermitted discussion of Hicks's other argument in support of her request for a new trial, namely that the trial court erred by not giving the requested jury instructions on permanent injuries and on the use of mortality tables. Because Allstate did not properly preserve for appellate review its motion for a partial judgment as a matter of law of the issue of causation underlying Hicks's claim, the trial court's denial of that motion was affirmed. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Allstate Insurance Company v. Hicks" on Justia Law
Turner v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Company
David Turner appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of State Farm Mutual Insurance Company. In August 2017, Turner was on duty as a paramedic and was riding in the passenger seat of an ambulance while responding to an emergency call. While traversing an intersection, the ambulance collided with a vehicle being driven by Michael Norris. Turner suffered multiple injuries, including a broken leg. In November 2017, Turner sued Norris, asserting claims of negligence and "recklessness." Norris answered the complaint, denying that he had been negligent or reckless. Because the Alabama Supreme Court Held that State Farm was discharged from its obligation to pay Turner UIM benefits based on State Farm's payment of a "Lambert" advance and Turner's repudiation of his policy with State Farm, the Court pretermitted consideration of Turner's alternative argument regarding State Farm's failure to disclose the substance of its investigation of Turner's claim for UIM benefits, and expressed no opinion concerning that issue. The Court also expressed no opinion regarding any potential liability State Farm may or may not have to Turner in tort because Turner did not assert such a claim in this action. View "Turner v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Ex parte State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.
In 2015, Elizabeth Byars was visiting a residence in Huntsville, Alabama owned by Hannelore Sims ("Hannelore") when she was attacked by a pit bull kept by Hannelore's adult grandson Cody Sims ("Cody"), who also resided at the property. The pit bull was allegedly owned by Belinda Jones (whose relationship to Cody and Hannelore was not made clear from the trial court record). Byars sued Hannelore, Cody, and Jones seeking to recover damages for her injuries. Cody was served with notice of Byars's lawsuit, but he failed to answer the complaint. The trial court entered a default judgment against Cody, awarding Byars $200,000. Byars thereafter amended her complaint to assert a claim against State Farm. Specifically, Byars alleged that State Farm had issued a homeowner's insurance policy insuring Hannelore's property and that, because a judgment had been entered against Cody, Byars could assert a claim against State Farm under the direct-action statute. State Farm moved to dismiss, arguing that the direct- action statute did not allow Byars to simply amend her complaint to add State Farm as a defendant. Rather, State Farm argued, Byars was required to initiate a separate action to pursue any claim she might have against State Farm. State Farm petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief when the trial court denied its motion. In denying State Farm's petition, the Supreme Court determined State Farm failed to meet its burden or establishing that it had no adequate remedy aside from a writ of mandamus. View "Ex parte State Farm Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law
Ex parte State Farm Fire & Casualty Company.
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
Ex parte Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Company.
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
GEICO Insurance Co. v. Evans
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
Ex parte Liberty National Life Insurance Company and Marcus Rich.
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
Ex parte Dow Corning Alabama, Inc., et al.
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
Ex parte Allstate Insurance Company.
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