Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Insurance Law
Nucor Steel Tuscaloosa, Inc. v. Zurich American Insurance Company et al.
Nucor Steel Tuscaloosa, Inc. ("Nucor"), appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Zurich American Insurance Company ("Zurich") and Onin Staffing, LLC ("Onin"), on claims asserted by Nucor arising from an alleged breach of an indemnification agreement. Nucor operated a steel-manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa. Nucor had an internship program that offered part-time work to technical-school students, who, as part of the internship program, earned both academic credit and work experience relevant to their vocational training. In 2010, Nucor entered into a "Temporary Services Agency Agreement" ("the TSA Agreement") with Onin, a personnel-staffing agency, whereby Onin was to manage the employment of the technical-school students selected by Nucor for its internship program. Korey Ryan was a student at Shelton State Community College who applied for Nucor's internship program through Shelton State. In October 2014, Ryan was killed while working in the course of his duties at the Nucor facility. Ricky Edwards, a Nucor employee, directed Ryan to stand in a certain area in front of a water filter so that he would be clear of a moving crane. Edwards stated that he then turned his attention back to the load and began moving the crane. Ryan's right boot was struck by and became caught underneath the gearbox as the crane was moving. Ryan was dragged by the crane along the concrete floor through the narrow passageway between the crane and the warehouse wall, where he was crushed to death against a building support beam. Ryan's estate brought a wrongful-death action against Nucor; OSHA cited Nucor for a "serious" safety violation and fined it. Zurich issued a letter to Nucor and Onin in which it questioned whether the general-liability policy afforded coverage for the claims asserted in the wrongful-death action. Zurich noted that neither the indemnification provision in the TSA Agreement nor the additional-insured endorsement contained in the policy applied to in instances when the alleged "bodily injury" and/or "property damage" was caused by Nucor’s sole wrongful conduct. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the particular facts and circumstances underlying the wrongful- death action did not trigger the indemnification provision and the payment of an insurance benefit; rather, the facts and circumstances voided the indemnification provision altogether. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the insurance company. View "Nucor Steel Tuscaloosa, Inc. v. Zurich American Insurance Company et al." on Justia Law
Jay v. United Services Automobile Association
Nicholas Jay appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of United Services Automobile Association ("USAA") on his claim against USAA seeking uninsured-motorist ("UM") benefits. Nicholas was injured in an automobile accident when riding as a passenger in Ryen Gorman's automobile. Gorman did not have automobile insurance. Nicholas received $50,000 in UM benefits through a policy he had with Nationwide Insurance Company. Thereafter, Nicholas commenced an action against USAA, seeking UM benefits pursuant to a USAA policy owned by his father-in-law, George Brewer, and under which Nicholas's wife, Michelle Jay, had automobile-insurance coverage. Because Nicholas was not a "covered person" under the USAA policy, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Jay v. United Services Automobile Association" on Justia Law
Allstate Property & Casualty Ins. Co. v. Harbin
Defendant Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company ("Allstate"), appealed a circuit court's order granting the posttrial motion of the plaintiff, Doyle Harbin, which sought the imposition of sanctions based on Allstate's purported violation of a pretrial mediation order. In 2015, Harbin was injured as the result of a motor-vehicle accident that he alleged was caused by Irvin Stewart. Harbin subsequently filed a complaint in the trial court asserting a negligence claim against Stewart. In the same complaint, Harbin also named Allstate, Harbin's automobile insurance carrier, as a defendant and sought to recover uninsured/underinsured-motorist ("UIM") benefits under his Allstate policy. Following Stewart's dismissal, Harbin, without opposition from Allstate, requested that the scheduled trial date be continued and the matter referred to mediation. Unable to reach a settlement, the matter proceeded to trial. A jury returned a $690,000 verdict in Harbin's favor. Approximately two weeks later, Harbin filed a "Motion for Entry of Judgment and Motion for Sanctions," essentially contending Allstate in bad faith failed to abide by the Order which set the Court-ordered mediation in which Allstate had agreed to participate. The motion requested Allstate pay Harbin's trial-related attorneys' fees. The Alabama Supreme Court found the evidence failed to show Allstate violated the trial court's mediation order, thus it exceeded its discretion by issuing Harbin's requested sanctions. The Court therefore reversed the portion of the trial court's order imposing sanctions exceeding Harbin's request for costs and fees totaling $57,516.36, and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "Allstate Property & Casualty Ins. Co. v. Harbin" on Justia Law
Allstate Insurance Co. v. Ogletree
Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate") and its insured, Kaitlin Ogletree, disagreed about the extent of damages incurred in an automobile accident that Ogletree had with an underinsured motorist. During closing arguments, Ogletree's counsel made inaccurate statements unsupported by the evidence presented at trial. The jury returned a verdict for Ogletree, and Allstate appealed on account of the allegedly improper closing argument. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the incorrect statements were prejudicial and adequate grounds for a new trial. Allstate's objection to the argument was properly preserved, and the Court found those statement were not provoked by an improper statement from Allstate's counsel. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Allstate Insurance Co. v. Ogletree" on Justia Law
The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Dickson
The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System ("HCA"), and The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System d/b/a Prattville Baptist Hospital (collectively, "the HCA entities"), appealed a circuit court order denying their motion to compel arbitration in an action brought by Leonidas Dickson, II. In 2015, Dickson sustained injuries as a result of an automobile accident. Following the accident, Dickson was taken to Prattville Baptist Hospital ("PBH"), where he was treated and discharged. Dickson was partially covered by a health-insurance policy issued by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Inc. ("BCBS"). PBH was a party to a "Preferred Outpatient Facility Contract" ("the provider agreement") with BCBS, under which the medical care rendered to Dickson in the emergency department at PBH was reimbursable. In 2017, Dickson filed a complaint to challenge a reimbursement that PBH had received in exchange for Dickson's medical treatment. Dickson's complaint also sought to certify a class of people who were insured by BCBS and who had received care at any hospital operated by HCA's predecessor, Baptist Health, Inc. ("BHI"). After the HCA entities' motion to dismiss was denied, the HCA entities filed an answer to the lawsuit, but the answer did not raise arbitration as a defense. After a year of extensive discovery (including class certification and class-related discovery), the HCA entities moved to compel arbitration on grounds that Dickson's health-insurance policy with BCBS required all claims related to the policy to be arbitrated and that the provider agreement also provided for arbitration, contingent upon the arbitration requirements of the BCBS policy. The trial court denied the motion to compel without providing a reason for the denial. After a request for reconsideration was also denied, the HCA entities appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the HCA entities waived their right to arbitration, thus affirming the trial court order. View "The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Dickson" on Justia Law
Ex parte Alfa Mutual Insurance Company.
Alfa Mutual Insurance Company intervened in a lawsuit brought by its insured, Danielene Myricks, against Kelisha Saulsberry, an uninsured motorist. Two weeks before trial, Alfa moved to opt out of the lawsuit. The circuit court issued an order granting that motion, but it later vacated the order and required Alfa to continue participating in the case as a named defendant. Alfa appealed, asking the Alabama Supreme Court to direct the circuit court to allow it to opt out. Finding that Alfa did not establish a clear legal right to intervene then opt out before trial, the Supreme Court denied Alfa's petition for mandamus relief. View "Ex parte Alfa Mutual Insurance Company." on Justia Law
Ex parte D.R.J.
Defendants D.R.J. and his mother, Dana Sides, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to vacate two orders holding that a pro tanto release executed in their favor was void, thus restoring them as defendants in the underlying lawsuit. Kathy and Barry King sued D.R.J. and Sides seeking damages for injuries the Kings sustained as a result of an automobile accident allegedly caused by D.R.J.'s negligence in driving Sides' vehicle. D.R.J. was a minor at the time of the accident. Defendants and their insurer, Alfa Mutual Insurance Company, offered to settle the Kings' claims for $95,000. Counsel for the Kings notified their insurer, State Farm, of the settlement offer, preserving its subrogation rights against defendants. State Farm responded by offering the Kings $25,000 to settle the UIM claim, which the Kings rejected. The Kings then accepted the $95,000 settlement offer without State Farm's consent, expressly reserving their UIM claim against State Farm. The Kings then moved to dismiss all claims against defendants, and the trial court entered an order dismissing defendants with prejudice. When State Farm learned of the pro tanto release, it moved the trial court for summary judgment, arguing the Kings forfeited their rights to UIM benefits by executing the pro tanto release without its consent. The trial court found State Farm validly objected to the Kings' settlement, made no ruling on State Farm's motion, and declared the pro tanto release void, thus restoring the "status quo" of the case. Defendants argued the trial court should have granted State Farm's motion and ended the litigation. The Supreme Court determined defendants' situation was not one in which they had a clear legal right to relief sought but the trial court refused to grant. They thus had not met their burden for the issuance of a writ of mandamus, and the Court denied their petition. View "Ex parte D.R.J." on Justia Law
Protective Life Insurance Company v. Apex Parks Group, LLC
Protective Life Insurance Company ("Protective") appealed a circuit court judgment entered on a jury verdict against Protective and in favor of Apex Parks Group, LLC ("Apex"), in the amount of $11,495,890.41. Apex, a California-based corporation, owned and operated 16 moderately sized amusement parks, water parks, and family-entertainment centers nationwide. Apex's founder and chief executive officer was Alexander Weber, who had possessed 43 years' experience in the industry and who was critical to Apex's success. Because of Weber's importance, in early 2016 Apex sought a "key-man" insurance policy on Weber. Protective is a Birmingham-based insurance company owned by the Dai-ichi Corporation. At that time, Weber was 64 years old. Answers from Weber's interview with a paramedical examiner were incorporated into the Apex application for insurance. Weber underwent a series of medical examinations, all of which were reported and incorporated into the key-man policy. In November 2016, after the first premium payment was made and the policy went into effect, while on vacation with his wife, Weber died. Shortly after Weber's death, Apex submitted its claim under the policy for the $10-million benefit. Protective then began a contestable-claim investigation, contending Weber's complete medical history was not disclosed, thereby voiding the policy. Protective thereafter refunded the premium Apex paid. Apex sued Protective asserting claims of breach of contract and bad faith in failing to investigate all bases supporting coverage and in making false promises that the claim would be paid. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined Protective was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Apex's claim of breach of contract, and the trial court erred by submitting this claim to the jury for consideration. Accordingly, that portion of the trial court judgment was reversed. "Because Protective demonstrated that Weber made a material misrepresentation and Apex failed to introduce substantial evidence to the contrary, Protective was entitled to rescind the policy, which was a complete defense to Apex's claims of breach of contract. Thus, the trial court erred in denying Protective's motions for a judgment as a matter of law." View "Protective Life Insurance Company v. Apex Parks Group, LLC" on Justia Law
Hendrix v. United Healthcare Insurance Company of the River Valley
Kathleen Hendrix ("Hendrix"), as administratrix of the estate of Kenneth Morris Hendrix, deceased, appeals a circuit court judgment dismissing Hendrix's medical-malpractice wrongful-death claim against United Healthcare Insurance Company of the River Valley ("United"). Kenneth, who was covered by a health-insurance policy issued by United, died after United refused to pay for a course of medical treatment recommended by Kenneth's treating physician. The trial court determined that Hendrix's claim was preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), because the claim "relate[s] to" the ERISA-governed employee-benefit plan pursuant to which United had issued Kenneth's health-insurance policy. In October 2015, Kenneth was injured in an automobile accident. His physician recommended Kenneth be admitted to an inpatient-rehabilitation facility. Hendrix claimed United "imposed itself as [Kenneth's] health care provider, took control of [Kenneth's] medical care, and made a medical treatment decision that [Kenneth] should not receive further treatment, rehabilitation, and care at an inpatient facility." Instead, Hendrix contended United made the decision Kenneth should have been discharged to his home to receive a lower quality of care than had been ordered by his physicians. Kenneth died on October 25, 2015, due to a pulmonary thromboembolism, which, the complaint asserts, would not have occurred had United approved inpatient rehabilitation. The Alabama Supreme Court concurred with the circuit court that Hendrix's claim related to an ERISA-governed benefit plan, and thus preempted by the ERISA statute. View "Hendrix v. United Healthcare Insurance Company of the River Valley" on Justia Law
Mid-Century Insurance Company v. Watts
The Alabama Supreme Court granted Mid-Century Insurance Company permission to appeal the denial of its motion for a partial summary judgment in an action seeking underinsured-motorist benefits filed by Rodney Watts, as the personal representative of the estate of his wife Leiah Watts, deceased, and others (collectively, "the Watts plaintiffs"). In 2016, Leiah Watts, Caiden Watts, Jackson Watts, Faye Howard, Mary Adair, Evelyn Watts, Tammy McBurnett, Renee Stone, and Victoria Stone were traveling in a 2014 Ford Expedition sport-utility vehicle when it was struck by a vehicle driven by Wiley "Pete" Whitworth. The collision killed Leiah Watts, Faye Howard, Mary Adair, and Evelyn Watts. Tammy McBurnett, Renee Stone, Caiden Watts, Jackson Watts, and Victoria Stone suffered serious injuries in the collision. The Watts vehicle was insured by a policy of insurance issued by Farmers Insurance Exchange to Rodney Watts, underwritten by Mid-Century. Mid-Century contended that, because the policy allowed for the stacking of up to three UIM coverages, the maximum amount of UIM benefits available under the policy for the accident in this case was $300,000, based on $100,000 per accident. The Watts plaintiffs contended that each of the nine occupants of the Watts vehicle involved in the accident (or his/her personal representative) was entitled to $150,000 in UIM benefits ($50,000 per person limit of the occupied vehicle plus the per person limit of $50,000 for two additional coverages under the stacking provision of the policy). Thus, the total sought by Rodney in UIM benefits was $1,350,000 (9 x $150,000). The case was removed to federal district court, and the federal court granted Mid-Century's motion to dismiss in part, granting the motion as to fraud claims as to Farmers Insurance Exchange and Mid-Century. The court dismissed without prejudice claims of breach of contract and bad faith on ripeness grounds. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the Watts plaintiffs were unable to stack more than three coverages under the uninsured-motorist statute and insurance policy, and the fact that they could not do so did not render the coverage under the policy illusory. The Court reversed the trial court's order denying Mid-Century's motion for a partial summary judgment as to the UIM claim and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Mid-Century Insurance Company v. Watts" on Justia Law