Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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After judgment was entered against Farmers based solely on a special verdict, Farmers argued that the judgment must be vacated because the jury did not find, and no evidence established, that it acted unreasonably in failing to settle plaintiff’s claim against the insured.The Court of Appeal concluded that, in the context of a third party insurance claim, failing to accept a reasonable settlement offer does not constitute bad faith per se. Rather, bad faith liability requires a finding that the insurer acted unreasonably in some respect. The court explained that, to be liable for bad faith, an insurer must not only cause the insured's damages, it must act or fail to act without proper cause, for example by placing its own interests above those of its insured. In this case, the special verdict was facially insufficient to support a bad faith judgment because it included no finding that Farmers acted unreasonably in failing to accept plaintiff's settlement offer.The court also concluded that a special verdict based solely on an insufficient jury instruction cannot support a judgment. In this case, the jury was neither asked to nor did find that Farmers acted unreasonably or without proper cause in failing to accept plaintiff's settlement offer. Therefore, because a cause of action for bad faith requires a finding that the insurer acted unreasonably, the absence of such a finding precludes judgment for the plaintiff on that claim. Finally, the court concluded that the proper remedy is to vacate the judgment and enter a new judgment for Farmers. View "Pinto v. Farmers Insurance Exchange" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against Quicken, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, alleging causes of action for breach of fiduciary duty and violations of Civil Code section 2954.8 and Business and Professions Code section 17200, contending that section 2954.8 requires a lender to pay interest on insurance proceeds held in escrow following the partial or total destruction of the insured's residence or other structure. In this case, plaintiff's home was destroyed by Ventura's Thomas Fire and his hazard insurance policy jointly paid him and his mortgage lender, Quicken, a total of $1,342,740. The Deed of Trust allowed Quicken to hold the insurance proceeds in escrow and to disburse the funds as repairs to the home were being made.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision sustaining Quicken's demurrer to the complaint without leave to amend, concluding that neither section 2954.8 nor the parties' loan agreement required the payment of interest. Based upon the statutory and contractual language, the court agreed with Lippitt v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC (C.D.Cal. Apr. 16, 2020, No. SA CV 19-1115-DOC-DFM) 2020 U.S. Dist. Lexis 122881, that section 2954.8 "applies to common escrows maintained to pay taxes, assessments, and insurance premiums -- not to the comparatively unique example of hazard insurance proceeds held by a lender pending property rebuilding." Therefore, the court concluded that the insurance proceeds held by Quicken pursuant to section 5 of the Deed of Trust fall outside the scope of section 2954.8. Furthermore, plaintiff's secondary reliance on the purported purposes of section 2954.8 does not and cannot circumvent the statute's plain language. View "Gray v. Quicken Loans, Inc." on Justia Law

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A subcontractor built a retaining wall that collapsed years later, causing damage to a nearby residential lot. The homeowner sued the subcontractor, obtained a default judgment, and then sued the subcontractor’s insurance company to enforce the default judgment. The insurance company moved for summary judgment, arguing the homeowner’s damages occurred long after the insurance policy had expired, and therefore the insurance company had no duty to cover the default judgment. The trial court agreed and granted the motion. On appeal, the homeowner alleged “continuous and progressive” damage began to occur shortly after the subcontractor built the retaining wall during the coverage period of the insurance policy. The insurance company disagreed. The Court of Appeal determined that was a triable issue of material fact, thus reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. View "Guastello v. AIG Specialty Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order dismissing with prejudice plaintiffs' claims against defendants for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing (bad faith claim) and violation of the Unfair Competition Law, Bus. & Prof. Code, section 17200 et seq. (UCL claim).The court concluded that an evaluation of the policy considerations underlying tort liability in the traditional insurance context demonstrates that home protection contracts are not sufficiently analogous to insurance to support the imposition of tort liability. Furthermore, the fact that the Insurance Code may regulate a company is not dispositive of whether that company should be subject to the same tort liability as traditional insurance companies. Rather, that issue is determined based on the policy considerations set forth in Cates Construction, Inc. v. Talbot Partners (1999) 21 Cal.4th 28, 43–44, and regardless of whether home protection companies are subject to certain Insurance Code regulations. The court also concluded that plaintiffs forfeited their judicial estoppel argument by failing to timely or adequately raise it in opposition to the demurrer. Finally, the court rejected plaintiffs' unfair competition claims, concluding that California Code of Regulations, title 10, section 2695.9 does not apply to defendant. View "Chu v. Old Republic Home Protection Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Church experienced water damage 57 days after escrow closed on a residence it had purchased; its insurance broker, SBC, had procured commercial property insurance for the residence with Philadelphia Indemnity. Philadelphia denied a claim. The policy states the insurer will not pay for losses if the building where the loss occurs was vacant for more than 60 consecutive days before the loss. The parties entered into an agreement whereby the Church gave Philadelphia the right to control litigation in the Church's name against SBC or third parties in exchange for a loan of money to repair and remediate the residence; the loan was to be repaid out of any recovery.In a suit against SBC for professional negligence, the court found that SBC had breached its duty of care, but that the Church suffered no damages because the loss was covered under the Philadelphia policy. The court found the vacancy provision ambiguous and concluded that it did not include time before the insured owned the residence.The court of appeal reversed. When the vacancy provision is properly interpreted and applied to the undisputed evidence, there was no coverage for the loss. The residence did not contain enough personal property to conduct operations as a residence for the Coptic Pope and visiting clergy or the prior owner. The court rejected an argument that the residence was not vacant under the policy because it was being held out for sale. View "St. Mary & St. John Coptic Orthodox Church v. SBC Insurance Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Auburn Woods I Homeowners Association (HOA) and its property manager Frei Real Estate Services (FRES), tendered the defense of two lawsuits filed against them by a member of HOA under HOA’s condominium/association policy. HOA’s insurer, State Farm Insurance Company (State Farm), denied the tender for the first lawsuit, but accepted defense of the second lawsuit as to HOA only. HOA and Al Frei, individually and doing business as FRES, sued State Farm and its agent Frank Lewis for, among other things, breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The trial court entered judgment in favor of State Farm and Lewis after a bench trial. HOA and Frei appealed, contending: (1) the trial court erred in concluding that State Farm did not owe a duty to defend HOA and FRES against the first lawsuit; (2) HOA had a reasonable expectation that FRES would be covered under the directors and officers liability provision of its policy; (3) State Farm failed to reimburse HOA for post-tender expenses related to the second lawsuit; (4) Lewis breached his contract with HOA by failing to include FRES as an additional insured and failing to alert HOA and Frei that itwas not possible to include FRES under the directors and officers liability provision; (5) State Farm breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing implied in HOA’s policy; and (6) the trial court erred in denying HOA and Frei’s motion to tax the expert witness fees State Farm and Lewis sought to recover under Code of Civil Procedure section 998. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded: (1) State Farm did not have a duty to defend HOA and FRES against the first lawsuit; (2) HOA and Frei failed to establish that FRES should have been deemed an insured under the directors and officers liability provision; (3) substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that HOA did not present State Farm with a clear statement of the amount of attorney’s fees and costs HOA incurred in defending against the second lawsuit; (4) HOA and Frei did not establish the alleged contract between Lewis and HOA; (5) HOA and Frei failed to demonstrate error with regard to their breach of implied covenant cause of action; and (6) State Farm and Lewis’s pretrial offer to compromise was effective to trigger cost shifting under section 998. View "Auburn Woods I Homeowners Assn. v. State Farm General Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In the underlying action, two restaurant patrons filed suit against the restaurant owner and his landlords after a vehicle accident caused a car to crash through the restaurant, injuring the patrons. The patrons alleged that the property lacked safety measures that would have protected them from this type of injury. Summary judgment was granted for the restaurant owner but denied for the landlords, who later settled with the patrons.The landlords' insurer, Truck Insurance, then filed suit against the restaurant's insurer, AMCO, for equitable contribution. The "additional insured" provision in the restaurant's AMCO policy covered the landlords' liability "arising out of" the restaurant owner's "use" of the premises. The trial court found that the landlords' liability arose from the restaurant owner's use of the premises and was therefore covered under the AMCO policy.The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the phrase "arising from" in a general liability insurance policy requires only a minimal causal connection, which existed here, and the respective liability of the parties is irrelevant to the additional insured provision. Because AMCO failed to assert that the trial court's 50 percent apportionment was erroneous, the court found this argument forfeited. View "Truck Insurance Exchange v. AMCO Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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While employed by Alameda County and on a medical leave of absence, Johnson enrolled online in supplemental life insurance coverage under a LINA group insurance policy. She remained on leave on the policy’s effective date and died six months later, without returning to work. When her beneficiary claimed benefits, LINA denied coverage based on a policy provision stating the insurance would not become effective if the employee was not in “active service” on the effective date. Johnson’s beneficiary sued for breach of contract, arguing that LINA and the county waived or were estopped from asserting the active service precondition.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of Alameda County but reversed the dismissal of LINA. In determining the effect of preconditions to effective coverage, waiver and estoppel are questions of fact. There are factual questions as to what Johnson knew or should have known about the active service requirement and whether the conduct of LINA and the county supported a reasonable expectation that the supplemental insurance was in place and effective. It is not apparent that “active service” has a single unambiguous meaning such that Johnson necessarily must have known she was not in “active service” because she was on medical leave. If Johnson’s policy went into effect, LINA, not the county, is liable for improper denial of benefits. View "Dones v. Life Insurance Co. of North America" on Justia Law

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David Murray purchased used computer equipment worth nearly $40,000, which was damaged by the United Postal Service (UPS) while it was being transported from California to Texas. Murray believed he purchased appropriate insurance to cover this loss, but the insurance company denied his claim. Murray sued his insurance broker, UPS Capital Insurance Agency (UPS Capital), for breach of contract and negligence, claiming UPS Capital owed him a special duty to make the insurance policy language understandable to an ordinary person and to explain the scope of coverage. The court granted UPS Capital’s motion for summary judgment after concluding there was no heightened duty of care and dismissed Murray’s lawsuit. On appeal, Murray asked the Court of Appeal to create a new rule that brokers/agents, specializing in a specific field of insurance, hold themselves out as experts, and are subject to a heightened duty of care towards clients seeking that particular kind of insurance. While the Court declined the invitation to create a per se rule, it concluded Murray raised triable issues of fact as to whether UPS Capital undertook a special duty by holding itself out as having expertise in inland marine insurance, and Murray reasonably relied on its expertise. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of dismissal and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Murray v. UPS Capital Ins. Agency, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Rafi Ghazarian and Edna Betgovargez had a son, A.G., with autism. A.G. received applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for his autism under a health insurance policy (the policy) plaintiffs had with defendant California Physicians’ Service dba Blue Shield of California (Blue Shield). Mental health benefits under this policy are administered by defendants Magellan Health, Inc. and Human Affairs International of California (collectively Magellan). By law, the policy had to provide A.G. with all medically necessary ABA therapy. Before A.G. turned seven years old, defendants Blue Shield and Magellan approved him for 157 hours of medically necessary ABA therapy per month. But shortly after he turned seven, defendants denied plaintiffs’ request for 157 hours of therapy on grounds only 81 hours per month were medically necessary. Plaintiffs requested the Department of Managed Health Care conduct an independent review of the denial. Two of the three independent physician reviewers disagreed with the denial, while the other agreed. As a result, the Department ordered Blue Shield to reverse the denial and authorize the requested care. Plaintiffs then filed this lawsuit against defendants, asserting breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing against Blue Shield, and claims for intentional interference with contract and violations of Business and Professions Code section 17200 (the UCL) against defendants. Defendants each successfully moved for summary judgment. As to the bad faith claim, the trial court found that since one of the independent physicians agreed with the denial, Blue Shield acted reasonably as a matter of law. As to the intentional interference with contract claim, the court found no contract existed between plaintiffs and A.G.’s treatment provider with which defendants could interfere. Finally, the court found the UCL claim was based on the same allegations as the other claims and thus also failed. After its review, the Court of Appeal concluded summary judgment was improperly granted as to the bad faith and UCL claims. "[I]t is well established that an insurer may be liable for bad faith if it unfairly evaluates a claim. Here, there are factual disputes as to the fairness of defendants’ evaluation. . . .There are questions of fact as to the reasonability of these standards. If defendants used unfair criteria to evaluate plaintiffs’ claim, they did not fairly evaluate it and may be liable for bad faith." Conversely, the Court found summary judgment proper as to the intentional interference with contract claim because plaintiffs failed to show any contract with which defendants interfered. View "Ghazarian v. Magellan Health" on Justia Law