Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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On February 22, a criminal complaint was filed against the defendant for unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle. On February 26, the defendant was in custody and present in court for a pretrial hearing. The court continued the matter to March 20. The Surety posted a bond of $25,000 for the defendant’s release from custody. At the March 20 pretrial hearing, the defendant was not present. The court told defense counsel “I’ll give you a week to bring him back in. … Bench warrant of 35,000 held … it’s not likely to waste your family and friends money and then FTA on a 10851.” On March 28, the defendant again failed to appear. The court ordered bail forfeited. A notice of forfeiture was mailed to the parties on March 29.On October 2, the Surety moved to vacate, forfeit, and exonerate bail or to extend time, arguing that the court lost jurisdiction over the bond because it failed to declare a forfeiture (Penal Code 13051) when the defendant did not appear on March 20. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion. The trial court had a rational basis for believing there may have been an excuse for the defendant’s failure to appear sufficient to warrant continuing the case without declaring a forfeiture and retained jurisdiction to later declare the bail forfeited. View "People v. Bankers Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Three appeals arose from an insurance coverage dispute following a wildfire that burned in Siskiyou County, California. In September 2014, the Boles Fire damaged and destroyed numerous homes in the town of Weed, including the homes owned by plaintiffs Gary Andrighetto, James Dalin, and Matthew Vulk. Plaintiffs and others filed suit against their insurance company, defendant State Farm General Insurance Company, alleging various claims, including breach of contract and negligence. Central to the parties’ dispute was whether State Farm intentionally or negligently underinsured plaintiffs’ homes. Plaintiffs argued their homes were insufficiently insured due to State Farm’s alleged failure to calculate reasonable or adequate policy limits on their behalf for the full replacement cost of their homes. After the trial court granted State Farm’s motion for summary judgment against Andrighetto, Dalin and Vulk stipulated to entry of judgment in favor of State Farm. Each plaintiff timely appealed, and the Court of Appeal consolidated the appeals for argument and disposition. Thereafter, the Court requested that the parties discuss in their briefing whether the judgments in the Dalin and Vulk matters needed to be reversed pursuant to Magana Cathcart McCarthy v. CB Richard Ellis, Inc., 174 Cal.App.4th 106 (2009). After review, the Court affirmed the trial court in the Andrighetto matter; the Court reversed in the Dalin and Vulk matters, and remanded those for further proceedings. View "Vulk v. State Farm General Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In the underlying action, the insureds were sued by victims of a fire that occurred at the insureds' property. The insurer, Aspen, and managing underwriter, D&H, defended the action, which ultimately settled without any out-of-pocket payment from the insureds. The insureds then filed this action against Aspen and D&H, seeking a declaration that a conflict of interest existed in the underlying case between them and Aspen and D&H, so they were entitled to so-called "Cumis" counsel under Civil Code section 2860. The trial court sustained a demurrer without leave to amend and entered judgment for Aspen and D&H.The Court of Appeal concluded that the demurrer was the incorrect procedural vehicle to resolve the insureds' declaratory judgment claim against Aspen and D&H. However, the insureds' family suffered no prejudice because the second amended complaint (SAC) did not allege a conflict of interest entitling them to independent counsel pursuant to section 2860 as a matter of law. Accordingly, the court modified the judgment to declare the rights adverse to the insureds and affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Nede Management, Inc. v. Aspen American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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Maryam Hedayati appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club (Auto Club or the Club) on Hedayati’s breach of good faith and fair dealing claim. Hedayati suffered catastrophic injuries in October 2012 when Auto Club’s insured ran a red light and struck her in a pedestrian crosswalk. The insured driver immediately notified Auto Club of the accident and authorized the Club to disclose his policy limits ($25,000); he also informed Auto Club he had no other insurance or assets. Auto Club’s policy with its insured required him to relinquish to the Club his right to negotiate settlement of potential tort claims falling within the policy. When he inquired about a release, Auto Club inaccurately told its insured driver Hedayati was not willing to sign one. Despite repeated requests during settlement negotiations from Hedayati’s attorney, Auto Club initially declined to disclose the insured’s policy limits; eventually it acquiesced, but Auto Club still declined to provide written proof of those limits, which the Club knew was common practice to facilitate a settlement. Auto Club then withheld from Hedayati’s counsel the insured’s written declaration which indicated he had no other insurance, which the Club had confirmed, and the insured’s statements that he had no assets. Auto Club also, despite multiple requests from Hedayati’s lawyer, failed to provide a copy of its insured’s policy which Hedayati’s lawyer needed to verify its terms. Hedayati’s counsel had demanded a hard copy of the policy as a settlement condition. Auto Club ultimately failed to settle the matter within its $25,000 policy limits. Hedayati subsequently obtained a $26 million judgment against the insured driver, along with assignment of the insured’s claim against the Club for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing implicit in its policy with him. The trial court concluded the evidence presented by Hedayati was insufficient as a matter of law. After its de novo review, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court’s evaluation of the evidence. It therefore reversed the summary judgment ruling and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hedayati v. Interinsurance Exchange of the Auto. Club" on Justia Law

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Allstate Insurance Company et al. (Allstate) filed a complaint on behalf of itself and the People of California (qui tam) against Dr. Sonny Rubin and related medical providers (Rubin). Allstate generally alleged Rubin prepared fraudulent patient medical reports and billing statements in support of insurance claims. Rubin filed an anti-SLAPP motion, arguing the preparation and submission of its medical reports and bills were protected litigation activities. The trial court denied Rubin’s motion. "Litigation is not 'under [serious] consideration' - and thereby protected activity under the anti-SLAPP statute - if the ligation is merely a 'possibility.'" The Court of Appeal found that Rubin failed to show its medical reports and bills were prepared outside of its usual course of business in anticipation of litigation that was “under [serious] consideration.” Thus, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order denying Rubin’s anti-SLAPP motion. View "California ex rel. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Rubin" on Justia Law

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In an appeal related to a California insurance insolvency proceeding, the New York Plaintiffs requested clarification from the San Francisco Superior Court as to whether its orders "prohibit or stay" their New York claims. In the insolvency case, the trial court appointed the California Insurance Commissioner (Commissioner) as conservator, and later as liquidator, of CastlePoint. The trial court, as part of the process, issued injunctions and approved releases pertaining to claims filed against or on behalf of CastlePoint or its assets.The Court of Appeal concluded that some of the causes of action in the New York lawsuit are not barred. These causes of action relate to: (i) the alleged breach of so-called "successor obligor provisions"; and (ii) an alleged $143 million payment from ACP to shareholders of TGIL. The court explained that these causes of action are not asserted against CastlePoint or the insurance companies that were merged into it, and there is no indication the Commissioner could have asserted these causes of action on behalf of the insolvent insurance companies. Therefore, the court reasoned that permitting them to proceed in New York will not interfere in any meaningful way with the plan for CastlePoint's liquidation, especially given the New York Plaintiffs' agreement not to assert any judgment against the insolvent insurance companies' estate or assets.However, prior to entering into releases, the Commissioner could have asserted fraudulent conveyance causes of action and a cause of action for unjust enrichment because they are based on alleged improper transfers of assets of the insolvent insurance companies. Accordingly, the court concluded that these causes of action are barred by the injunctions and releases in the liquidation proceeding. The court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Lara v. Castlepoint National Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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National Western Life Insurance Company (NWL) appealed a jury verdict holding the company liable for negligence and elder abuse arising from an NWL annuity sold to Barney Williams by Victor Pantaleoni, an independent agent. In 2016, Pantaleoni sold a $100,000 NWL annuity to Williams, who had contacted Pantaleoni to revise a living trust after the death of Williams’ wife. When Williams returned the annuity to NWL during a 30-day “free look” period, Pantaleoni wrote a letter over Williams’ signature for NWL to reissue a new annuity. In 2017, when Williams cancelled the second annuity, NWL charged a $14,949.91 surrender penalty. The jury awarded Williams damages against NWL, including punitive damages, totaling almost $3 million. NWL moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which was denied. The Court of Appeal reversed: “Assuming NWL had monitored Pantaleoni as Williams suggested, there was no evidence showing that NWL knew or should have known of Pantaleoni’s fraud. … That Williams wrote the note cancelling the first annuity and Pantaleoni apparently wrote the letter requesting that it be reissued for Williams’ signature did not suggest to NWL that the letter was forged.” View "Williams v. National Western Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Foremost provided insurance for McIsaac's motorcycle. The uninsured motorist coverage endorsement included an arbitration provision. McIsaac was involved in an accident. The other driver’s insurance policy provided $15,000 of coverage. McIsaac’s policy provided uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage of up to $100,000 per person per accident. McIsaac initiated an uninsured motorist claim. Foremost opened an investigation and sent a settlement offer. McIsaac served Foremost with an arbitration demand. Foremost suggested proceeding with discovery and sent McIsaac interrogatories and a deposition notice.Months later, McIsaac filed suit, alleging breach of contract, unjust enrichment, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and bad faith. Foremost filed a petition to compel arbitration. McIsaac argued his dispute was not solely about damages, but whether Foremost breached the contract and acted in bad faith. Foremost argued arbitration was a “condition precedent” to McIsaac’s lawsuit. The trial court denied the petition, stating that arbitration does not apply to claims of bad faith by the insurer.The court of appeal reversed. Under Insurance Code section 11580.2(f), disputes between insureds and insurers over entitlement to recover damages caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist, or the amount of damages, must be resolved by agreement or arbitration. Foremost made a showing that the parties dispute the amount of damages. View "McIsaac v. Foremost Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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CMA and others filed suit against Aetna, seeking among other claims, an injunction for alleged violations of the Unfair Competition Law (UCL; Bus. & Prof. Code, section 17200). The trial court found that CMA lacked standing under the UCL because it was not directly injured by Aetna's policy.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of Aetna's motion for summary judgment, concluding that the body of law permitting an association to bring a nonclass representative action does not bestow standing upon CMA to seek an injunction against Aetna under the UCL, whether or not CMA individually suffered injury in fact and lost money or property. The court also concluded that CMA's evidence that it diverted substantial resources to assist its physician members who were injured by Aetna's policy did not create a material disputed fact as to whether CMA itself suffered injury in fact and lost money or property. The court explained that an association must sustain direct economic injury to itself and not just its members to bring a UCL claim. Furthermore, evidence that an association diverted resources to investigate its members' claims of injury and advocate for their interests is not enough to show standing under the UCL. In this case, the federal authorities CMA cites are neither binding on this court nor instructive. View "California Medical Ass'n v. Aetna Health of California, Inc." on Justia Law

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After plaintiffs lost their home in a fire, they promptly submitted a claim under their homeowner’s insurance policy to their insurer, Mid-Century. Mid-Century denied the claim on the ground that the policy had been canceled for nonpayment of premium six days before the fire. Plaintiffs immediately paid the past due premium, the policy was reinstated, but Mid-Century continued to deny the claim. Plaintiffs filed suit for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The trial court granted summary adjudication for plaintiffs on the issue of Mid-Century's duty to provide coverage and denied Mid-Century's motion for summary judgment in its entirety.The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court properly denied Mid-Century's motion for summary judgment but improperly granted plaintiff's motion for summary adjudication. The court rejected Mid-Century's argument that the loss-in-progress rule precludes coverage. Rather, the court concluded that the law allowed Mid-Century to retroactively reinstate the policy with no lapse in coverage. However, the court concluded that there exists a triable issue of material fact regarding Mid-Century's intent when it reinstated the policy that precludes summary adjudication for either party. View "Antonopoulos v. Mid-Century Insurance Co." on Justia Law