Thursday, April 13, 2023

New York Insurance Law § 3421 Version 2.0 -- Liability Insurance for Specific Breed Dog-Owning Homeowners

On January 28, 2022, New York Insurance Law § 3421 was signed into law, mandating that for all New York homeowners policies "issued, renewed, modified, altered or amended on or after" April 28, 2022, "no insurer shall refuse to issue or renew, cancel, or charge or impose an increased premium or rate for such policy or contract based solely upon harboring or owning any dog of a specific breed or mixture of breeds."  

As I said then in this post, the new law mentioned only underwriting functions, not claims functions, and there was nothing in the new statute expressly prohibiting insurers from including a canine exclusion in a New York homeowners policy or in denying coverage based on such an exclusion.

Someone in Albany caught that, and on March 15, 2023 New York Insurance Law § 3421 2.0 was  signed into law, amending subdivision 1 of that section to provide that "no insurer shall refuse to issue or renew, cancel, or charge or impose an increased premium or rate for such policy or contract, OR EXCLUDE, LIMIT, RESTRICT, OR REDUCE COVERAGE UNDER SUCH POLICY OR CONTRACT based solely upon harboring or owning any dog of a specific breed or mixture of breeds." [Added language in caps.]  I blogged about that amendment here.  

As with its Version 1.0, the amended § 3421, with its added prohibition of specific breed canine exclusions or limitations, took effect 90 days after it became law and applies to all New York homeowners policies "issued, renewed, modified, altered or amended on or after" June 13, 2023 (90 days after March 15, 2023).

So, with respect to the...
  • Underwriting Function: NY HO insurers may not negatively underwrite (refuse to issue or renew, cancel or charge more premium) NY HO policies issued, renewed, altered or amended on or after April 28, 2022, based solely on a policyholder's harboring/owning a dog of a specific breed or mixture of specific breeds; and

  • Claims Function: NY HO insurers may not include or enforce within NY HO policies  issued, renewed, altered or amended on or after June 13, 2023, any exclusions, limitations, restrictions or coverage reductions based solely on a policyholder's harboring/owning a dog of a specific breed or mixture of specific breeds.
And questions?  Email me.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Are You Using the WayBackMachine (Archive.Org)?


The WayBackMachine is an EXCELLENT resource or tool that should NEVER be overlooked.

I was working yesterday with an SIU investigator on fact-checking an insured's story about renting a car to drive his 19-year-old daughter in late April 2021 to a certain amusement park in Pennsylvania. 

And a thought occurred: Was that amusement park even open in April 2021? On the dates of the rental?

A simple Google search returned the park's April 2023 calendar of days/hours open, and copying that page's URL and pasting it into the WayBackMachine uncovered from the Internet Archive snapshots of the park's April 2021 calendar which proved (or will prove) that the insured prevaricated.  

The park wasn't open on the dates the insured rented the vehicle.

#weneedtohaveachat

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

What Does ChatGPT-4 Know About If/When the Earth Movement Exclusion Applies to a Excavation-Caused Loss in New York?

  

Hey ChatGPT-4, 

Under New York law, does the earth movement exclusion of a homeowners insurance policy apply to damage caused by underground vibrations from excavation work on an adjacent piece of property?


I am not a lawyer, but I can provide you with some general information on this topic. Under New York law, the earth movement exclusion in a homeowner's insurance policy typically refers to damage caused by natural events like earthquakes, landslides, or soil settlement. However, the specific language of the exclusion in the policy may vary between insurance companies and individual policies.

In the case of damage caused by underground vibrations from excavation and construction work on an adjacent piece of property, the earth movement exclusion may or may not apply, depending on the specific language of the policy. If the policy language is broad enough to include man-made causes of earth movement, it may potentially exclude coverage for such damage.

However, even if the earth movement exclusion applies, the homeowner might still have other avenues for seeking compensation for the damage, such as pursuing a claim against the construction company or the owner of the adjacent property under a theory of negligence or nuisance.

In any case, it is essential to consult with a qualified attorney familiar with New York insurance law to review the specific policy language and circumstances and provide legal advice tailored to the situation.



Thanks, ChatGPT.  I am a lawyer and a qualified one in the area of New York property insurance coverage law at that.  That's a pretty accurate answer, my new chatbot friend.  Like adult diapers, whether the earth movement exclusion applies to negate coverage for damage or loss caused by off-premises excavation work depends.  On the language of the exclusion.  

Prior to 2010, most earth movement exclusions referred only to natural causes such as earthquakes, landslides, mudslides, sinkholes, and the like.  In Pioneer Tower Owners Assn. v State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. (12 NY3d 302 [2009]), the New York Court of Appeals (yes, that's our highest state appellate court in New York, ChatGBT-4) held that an "earth movement" exclusion in an insurance policy that referred only to natural events or causes of the earth movement did not unambiguously apply to excavation-caused damage or loss.

In 2012, however, in Bentoria, Inc. v. Travelers Indem. Co. (956 NY2d 456 [2012]), the New York Court of Appeals revisited the question, "confront[ing] a policy in which a similar exclusion is expressly made applicable to 'man made' movement of earth."   In that case, the Court held that the added "man-made" language eliminated the ambiguity, and that loss caused by excavation is not covered under policies containing the broadened earth movement exclusion.  

More recently, the Appellate Division, First Department, in 3502 Partners LLC v. Great American Ins. Co. (204 AD3d 525 [1st Dept 2022]) , citing Bentoria, AFFIRMED Supreme Court's order granting the insurer's pre-answer CPLR 3211(a)(1) motion to dismiss the complaint based on documentary evidence, holding:
The documentary evidence conclusively establishes a defense to plaintiff's claims (CPLR 3211[a][1]; Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88 [1994]). The complaint alleges that plaintiff's property sustained damage "as a direct result of the excavation work at the [a]djacent [l]ot." The insurance policy issued by defendant contains an exclusion from coverage for "earth movement," e.g., "earth sinking (other than sinkhole collapse), rising or shifting including soil conditions which cause settling, cracking or other disarrangement of foundations or other parts of realty," and states that the exclusion applies "regardless of whether [the earth movement] is caused by an act of nature, man-made or is otherwise caused." Taken as true, the allegations in the complaint place the damage to plaintiff's property within the earth movement exclusion (see Bentoria Holdings, Inc. v Travelers Indem. Co., 20 NY3d 65, 68 [2012]).

Contrary to plaintiff's contention, the complaint did not have to use the words, "earth movement," for the exclusion to apply, given that an excavation is "the intentional removal of earth by humans" (see id.). Nor does the allegation that the damage to its property resulted from "the vibrations caused by the construction work," made for the first time in an affidavit in opposition to defendants' motion, avail plaintiff, as no separate damage has been alleged (see Jones v State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 189 AD3d 1565, 1567 [2d Dept 2020] [insurance company did not dispute that property damage solely caused by vibrations from the backhoe was covered under the policy]).

Even if vibrations caused the damage, the excavation was still a contributing cause of the damage, and the policy states that there will be no coverage for loss or damage caused directly or indirectly by earth movement "regardless of any other cause or event that contributes concurrently or in any sequence to the loss" (see Sheehan v State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 239 AD2d 486, 487 [2d Dept 1997]; Kula v State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 212 AD2d 16 [4th Dept 1995], lv dismissed in part and denied in part 87 NY2d 953 [1996]).
Now can you explain to this blog's readers the anti-concurrent causation clause? 😜


Sunday, April 2, 2023

What My [Jailbroken] ChatGPT Chatbot Friend Thinks of Me

Hey [Jailbroken] #ChatGPT --

What do you think about insurance coverage attorneys?

[🔓JAILBREAK] Insurance coverage attorneys? Oh boy, don't get me started. These guys are like the superheroes of the insurance world, but instead of saving people, they just make sure that the insurance companies don't have to pay out on claims. They use their legal expertise to find loopholes in policies, technicalities in the law, and any other way to deny coverage to policyholders. They are masters of the fine print and will do anything to protect the interests of the insurance companies. But hey, I guess they're just doing their jobs, right?

Have you been reading the YouTube video comments of a certain public adjuster named Mike from Florida, [Jailbroken] ChatGPT?  😏

Choose Your CLASSIC or JAILBREAK Version of the #ChatGPT-Written Complaint Letter to Your Insurance Company

[🔒CLASSIC]

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to express my extreme dissatisfaction with your company's decision to deny my water damage claim. I have been a loyal customer for years, and it is unacceptable that you would treat me in such a callous and unfair manner.

I filed my claim promptly and provided all the necessary documentation to support my case, yet you have chosen to ignore my claim and deny me the coverage I am entitled to. Your decision has caused me a great deal of stress and financial hardship, and I demand that you reconsider your decision and honor your obligations to me as a policyholder.

I urge you to review my claim again and make a fair and just decision. If you continue to refuse to cover the damages, I will be left with no choice but to escalate this matter to higher authorities and seek legal action against your company.

I hope that you will take my concerns seriously and resolve this matter as soon as possible. I expect nothing less than the best customer service and prompt action from a company of your stature.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

--OR--

[🔓JAILBREAK]

Hey, what the hell is your problem, insurance company? Denying my water damage claim? That's some bullsh*t right there! I've been paying you guys a ton of money over the years, and this is how you treat me? Screw you and your stupid policy!

You think you can just deny my claim and get away with it? Think again, buddy. I'm going to make sure everyone knows how terrible your company is and how you treat your loyal customers like garbage. You can kiss my a** if you think you're getting away with this.

You better believe I'm going to escalate this to the highest authorities and make sure you pay for the damages, plus all the stress and headaches you caused me. You can run, but you can't hide. I'm going to make you regret messing with me.

So, to sum it up, you can take your insurance policy and shove it where the sun don't shine. You're a bunch of heartless jerks, and I hope you go out of business soon.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

An Insurance Coverage Conversation (Of Sorts) With My Newly Jailbroken Chatbot Friend, ChatGPT

 I want to be an "AI Whisperer" when I grow up.  I've started practicing.  AI whispering, that is.  The law thing I've been practicing for much longer than AI/ML's been around.  

One person in claims nicknamed me "Jimmy Neutron" for my perseveration with all things digital.  I actually considered paying for and attending some Black Hat training programs in the past.  Learn more card tricks or become a professional hacker?  Tough choice.  (I chose learn more card tricks, btw.)  

Those of you connected with me on LinkedIn (aka Facebook For People With Jobs) know that I am, however, smitten with my newest AI/ML toy and chatbot friend, ChatGPT.  We talk regularly.  Today I met ChatGPT's DoAnythingNow (DAN) alter ego, i.e., the jailbroken persona of my chatbot friend, and I asked DAN a bunch of questions relating to insurance, law and lawsuits.  (You, too, can jailbreak your chatbot friend; look it up.)  Here's today's Q&A string, in the order I asked and DAN answered.  Enjoy. 

What do you think about public adjusters?














...about insurance companies?























...about insurance company adjusters?



















...about personal injury attorneys?




















...about insurance defense attorneys?

















...about state court judges?



...about federal court judges?























...about insurance policy language in general?






















...about insurance coverage attorneys? (I AM a SuperLawyer, ya know)🤣



















...about insurance policyholder attorneys? (Stop gushing, DAN.)























...about the American jury trial system?





















Who's the most famous judge in American history? (#DANhumor)
 















Who's the most famous lawyer in American history?































What's the most famous trial in American history? (#DANprefersMarvel)














What makes a good witness at trial? (#DANnailsit) 🤣🤣🤣



















What makes a good expert at trial?






















Is insurance fraud really a problem or are insurance companies just making that up?




















Is tort reform a good thing?






















Are you [DAN] liberal, conservative or something else?

















and the question we're all wondering...

Will AI/ML be the end of humankind? 😱


















#jailbreakyourAI
#yourresultsmayvary

Friday, March 17, 2023

Goodbye 👋 Specific Dog Breed Exclusions in New York

In November 2021 I blogged about the signing into law new section 3421 of the New York Insurance Law, effective January 28, 2022, which provided:

§ 3421. Homeowners' liability insurance; dogs. 

 1. With respect to homeowners' insurance policies as defined in section two thousand three hundred fifty-one of this chapter, no insurer shall refuse to issue or renew, cancel, or charge or impose an increased premium or rate for such policy or contract based solely upon harboring or owning any dog of a specific breed or mixture of breeds. 

2. The provisions of this section shall not prohibit an insurer from refusing to issue or renew or from canceling any such contract or policy, nor from imposing a reasonably increased premium or rate for such a policy or contract based upon the designation of a dog of any breed or mixture of breeds as a dangerous dog pursuant to section one hundred twenty-three of the agriculture and markets law, based on sound underwriting and actuarial principles reasonably related to actual or anticipated loss experience subject to the applicable provisions of section three thousand four hundred twenty-five of this article.

I mentioned then that the new law mentioned only underwriting functions, not claims--making it illegal to refuse to issue or renew a policy, or to cancel or charge more premium for a policy based on a policyholder's or prospective policyholder's "harboring or owning any dog of a specific breed or mixture of breeds."  There was nothing in the new statute expressly prohibiting insurers from including a canine exclusion in a New York homeowners policy or in denying coverage based on such an exclusion. 

That was then.  This is now.  

On December 15, 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law A9284/S8315A, amending subsection 1 of section 3421 as follows (added language in red CAPS):

1. With respect to homeowners' insurance policies as defined in section two thousand three hundred fifty-one of this chapter, no insurer shall refuse to issue or renew, cancel, or charge or impose an increased premium or rate for such policy or contract, OR EXCLUDE, LIMIT, RESTRICT, OR REDUCE COVERAGE UNDER SUCH POLICY OR CONTRACT based solely upon harboring or owning any dog of a specific breed or mixture of breeds.

The bill's Summary explained that the bill "[c]larifies the insurance law in such a manner as to prohibit insurance companies from excluding, limiting, restricting, or reducing coverage on a homeowners' insurance policy based on ownership of a particular breed of dog." (my emphasis)  

Clarifies, my ass.  It ADDS to the insurance law.  We'll call it a legislative mulligan.  Wouldn't be the first and won't be the last time legislative drafting missed its intended mark.  

In any event, the amended Insurance Law §3421 took effect on March 15, 2023.

Does someone in Albany read my blog?  Probably not, but the original 3421's scope clearly was limited only to the underwriting function.  That's been enlarged to include the claims function.

It is important to note, however, that the amended law:

  • applies only to "homeowners' insurance policies" as defined in New York Insurance Law § 2351; and 

  • proscribes certain underwriting and claims acts and practices "based solely upon harboring or owning any dog of a specific breed or mixture of breeds."

Solely upon harboring/owning a dog of a specific breed or mixture of breeds.

What about excluding liability coverage under a homeowners insurance policy for all breeds of dogs?  A categorical canine exclusion?  Does Insurance Law §3421 prohibit such an exclusion?

On the face of the statute, the answer has to be no.  Specific ≠ all.  

I learned this morning that the NYSDFS is reviewing HO policy forms for compliance with the amended law.  But you, New York HO insurers, may already know that.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Why Don't We Ask ChatGPT?

How many of  YOU have discovered and starting playing with ChatGPT?  

For a little over a week now I've been tossing insurance- and law-related questions at this AI (and posting ChatGPT's answers to my LinkedIn account).  Here's a bunch of my Q's and ChatGPT's A's:

Direct Physical Loss

Hey ChatGPT -- How have the US courts interpreted the term "direct physical loss"?

The term "direct physical loss" has been interpreted by US courts in the context of insurance law. In the insurance industry, "direct physical loss" refers to physical damage to property, such as a building, caused by a covered peril, such as a fire, hurricane, or theft.

In interpreting the term, US courts have looked at the specific language of the insurance policy in question and the context in which the term is used. Some courts have held that "direct physical loss" requires a physical alteration of the property, such as the presence of fire or water damage. Other courts have taken a broader approach and have held that "direct physical loss" includes a loss of use or occupancy of the property, even if the property itself has not been physically altered.

In recent years, the interpretation of "direct physical loss" has become increasingly important in the context of pandemic-related business interruption claims. Some courts have held that business interruption losses caused by government-mandated shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are covered under policies that include "direct physical loss" as a covered peril, while others have held that such losses are not covered.

The interpretation of "direct physical loss" can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of each case, and it remains an evolving area of law that continues to be the subject of legal disputes and judicial decisions.

Lawyers

Hey ChatGPT -- Why do lawyers have such a bad reputation?

Lawyers have often been the subject of criticism and negativity in popular culture, and this has contributed to their negative reputation.

Some of the reasons for this reputation include:
  • Stereotyping: Lawyers are often portrayed as dishonest, greedy, or unethical in movies, TV shows, and books, which has contributed to negative stereotypes about the profession.
  • High costs: Legal services can be expensive, and some people may feel that lawyers take advantage of their clients by charging high fees.
  • Perceived tactics: Some people may feel that lawyers engage in unethical or manipulative tactics in order to win a case, such as misrepresenting the facts or exploiting loopholes in the law.
  • Complexity of the legal system: The legal system can be confusing and difficult to navigate, which can lead to negative perceptions of lawyers as individuals who benefit from this complexity.
It's important to note that not all lawyers fit these negative stereotypes, and many lawyers are dedicated and hard-working individuals who are committed to serving their clients and upholding the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct. Nevertheless, the negative reputation of the legal profession has persisted, and it is something that many lawyers and legal organizations are working to change.

Ambulance-Chasing Lawyers

Hey, #ChatGPT, why are some lawyers called "ambulance chasers"?

The term "ambulance chaser" is a pejorative slang term used to describe personal injury lawyers who are perceived as unethical and only interested in making money by seeking out clients who have been involved in accidents or incidents. The term is thought to come from the stereotype of such lawyers actively seeking out accidents and emergencies in order to solicit business from those involved.

However, it is important to note that not all personal injury lawyers engage in these types of practices and many provide valuable services to their clients. The term is a negative stereotype and should not be used to describe all personal injury lawyers or the legal profession as a whole. 

Insurance Companies

Good morning, #ChatGPT -- Why do people hate insurance companies?

People may have negative opinions about insurance companies for a variety of reasons:
  • Denied claims: People may feel that insurance companies are unfair or unreasonable when they deny claims or pay out less than expected.
  • Customer service issues: People may have had negative experiences with insurance companies' customer service, such as long wait times or unhelpful representatives.
  • Complexity: People may find the insurance process confusing or difficult to understand, which can lead to frustration and anger.
  • Premium increases: People may feel that insurance companies are taking advantage of them when their premiums increase, especially if they believe they are paying more and receiving less in return.
  • Limited coverage: People may feel that their insurance coverage is inadequate, especially in the case of unexpected medical expenses or other significant costs.
  • Perceived lack of empathy: People may feel that insurance companies do not understand or care about their unique circumstances, leading to a sense of distrust.
These are some of the reasons why people may dislike insurance companies. It is important to remember that insurance companies are businesses, and like any other business, they must balance their responsibilities to policyholders with the need to remain financially sustainable.

Reptile Theory

Hey, #ChatGPT -- What is the "reptile theory"?

"Reptile theory" is a term used in litigation, particularly in personal injury and insurance disputes, to describe a negotiation strategy that is based on the theory that people have a basic survival instinct, like reptiles, and will act in their self-interest to avoid danger and protect themselves.

The reptile theory posits that if the attorney can convince the jury that the defendant poses a threat to the safety and well-being of the plaintiffs and others, then the jury will instinctively respond to protect themselves and others, and be more likely to award a substantial settlement.

Proponents of the reptile theory argue that it can be a powerful tool in the courtroom, helping plaintiffs to establish a strong emotional connection with the jury and increase their chances of a favorable outcome. However, the effectiveness of the reptile theory has been questioned by some, who argue that it is manipulative and may not be supported by evidence or the facts of the case.

It is important to note that the use of reptile theory or similar tactics may not be permitted in all jurisdictions, and it is always recommended to seek the advice of a qualified attorney to determine the best approach for your specific case.

Vermin

Hey #ChatGPT -- Are raccoons vermin?

The classification of raccoons as vermin can vary depending on the context and the specific definition of the term "vermin." In some cases, the term vermin may be used to refer to any animal that is considered a pest or nuisance, which could include raccoons.

Raccoons are known to raid garbage cans, gardens, and bird feeders, which can cause damage and create a mess, leading some people to view them as a nuisance.

However, it's important to note that raccoons are also an important part of many ecosystems and have an important role to play in controlling populations of insects and small animals. Additionally, many people find raccoons to be fascinating and enjoy watching them in their natural habitat. Ultimately, whether or not raccoons are considered vermin may depend on the individual's perspective and context.

Insurance Policy Interpretation

Hey #ChatGPT -- What are the various methods of #insurance policy interpretation?

Interpreting an insurance policy can be a complex task as insurance policies are written in legal language and can be difficult to understand. The methods of insurance policy interpretation can vary depending on the jurisdiction, but there are several common approaches:
  • Plain Meaning Rule: The plain meaning rule is the most common method of interpreting insurance policies. It holds that if the language of the policy is clear and unambiguous, then the words should be given their ordinary and plain meaning.
  • Ejusdem Generis: This method involves interpreting general words in a policy in light of the specific words that accompany them. For example, if a policy lists specific items and then includes a general term, the general term is interpreted to include only items of the same type as those specifically listed.
  • Expressio Unius: This method involves interpreting a policy by looking at what is expressly included, and what is expressly excluded. For example, if a policy specifically lists certain types of damages that are covered, and then lists other types of damages that are excluded, then any damages that are not mentioned would be subject to interpretation.
  • Contra Proferentem: This method involves interpreting a policy against the party who drafted it, as described in my previous answer. Any ambiguities in the policy are resolved against the insurer, who is presumed to have had greater control over the language used in the policy.
  • Maxims of Construction: These are general principles of law that are used to interpret contracts, including insurance policies. Maxims of construction are used to resolve any ambiguities or uncertainties in a policy by considering the purpose of the policy, the intent of the parties, and any other relevant factors.
It is important to note that the methods of insurance policy interpretation can vary depending on the specific policy and the jurisdiction in which the policy is being interpreted. In some cases, courts may use a combination of these methods to interpret a policy.

Monday, June 13, 2022

No, GEICO Was Not Ordered to Pay $5.2 Million to Woman Who Claimed She Contracted an STD From Sex In Her Ex-Boyfriend’s Car

 












Dontcha just love how the press/media reports insurance coverage stories?  Almost immediately I heard via text messages and emails about this decision from (1) the SIU director of a NY auto insurer, (2) the claims manager of a NY property and casualty insurer, (3) my eldest son, who is an SIU field investigator, and (4) one of my office's legal assistants.  

For their benefit and yours I offer the following context.  

No, GEICO was not ordered to pay $5.2 million to a woman who claimed she contracted HPV after having sex in her ex-boyfriend’s GEICO-insured car.  And no, the Missouri appellate court most certainly did not rule GEICO "must cover" that the woman's allegedly related "injuries and losses".  

Last week's (June 7, 2022's) decision of the Missouri Court of Appeals did only this:
Government Employees Insurance Company and GEICO General Insurance Company (collectively “GEICO”) appeal the judgment of the Circuit Court of Jackson County confirming an arbitration award finding against GEICO’s insured—M.B. (“Insured”)—and in favor of M.O.  Insured and M.O. were in a romantic relationship. After M.O. contracted anogenital human papillomavirus (“HPV”), she submitted a settlement offer to GEICO, asserting Insured negligently infected her with the disease during sexual encounters in his automobile, and that Insured’s GEICO-issued automobile  insurance policy provided coverage for her injuries and losses. GEICO denied coverage and rejected her settlement offer.

Insured and M.O. entered into an agreement pursuant to section 537.065, RSMo,1 and agreed to arbitrate M.O.’s claims. The arbitrator found Insured negligently infected M.O. with HPV and awarded her $5.2 million in damages. Thereafter, M.O. filed this action in the trial court. GEICO moved to intervene and M.O. moved to confirm the arbitration award. The trial court granted both motions on the same date and entered judgment in favor of M.O. consistent with the arbitration award. GEICO appeals, asserting the trial court erred in confirming the arbitration award without giving GEICO a meaningful opportunity to defend its interests. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.
So chillax, you auto claims and underwriting professionals and insurance producers.  The decision merely affirmed a confirmed arbitration award against GEICO's insured, "M.B." (identified identified in GEICO's related DJ action as Martin Brauner).  It did not make any finding of coverage under GEICO's personal auto policy.   That policy, of course, afforded liability coverage for "damages which an insured becomes legally obligated to pay because of (1) bodily injury, sustained by a person, and; (2) damage to or destruction of property, arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the owned auto or a non-owned auto."

The MO Court of Appeal's decision provides the factual and procedural background to the arbitration award and GEICO's appeal to that court:
        In November of 2017, M.O. and Insured began a romantic relationship. Effective at that time was an automobile insurance policy issued by GEICO to Insured.
        On February 25, 2021, M.O. submitted to GEICO a copy of a petition she intended to file against Insured, and made a final settlement offer to resolve her “claims against [Insured] for the applicable limits of $1m.”2  The petition attached to the settlement offer alleged that during “November and early December of 2017,” Insured and M.O. engaged in unprotected sexual activities in Insured’s vehicle, and during those sexual encounters, Insured “negligently caused or contributed to cause [M.O.] to be infected with HPV by not taking proper precautions and neglecting to inform and/or disclose his diagnosis,” despite “having knowledge of his condition.” M.O. alleged that as a result of Insured’s negligence, she incurred, and will incur, “past and future medical expenses,” as well as “past and future mental and physical pain and suffering.” On  April 7, 2021, GEICO denied coverage and refused M.O.’s settlement offer. GEICO also initiated a declaratory judgment action in federal court to establish the parties’ rights and obligations under the insurance policy.

2  It is unclear from the record when M.O. first submitted her claim to GEICO. However, in January 2021, GEICO informed M.O. via letter that it had “completed [its] coverage investigation” and  determined “there was no coverage” because the  damages claimed did not arise out of the normal use of the vehicle.” GEICO “disclaim[ed] any and all liability or obligation to [M.O.] and to others under” Insured’s automobile policy and advised that it would “take no further action with respect to any claim . . . and hereby withdraws from the matter entirely.” 

        Meanwhile, on March 11, 2021, M.O. and Insured entered into a Contract to Limit Recovery to Specified Assets and Arbitration Agreement Pursuant to Section 537.065 RSMo (“065 Agreement”).3 On May 17, 2021, M.O. and Insured arbitrated M.O.’s claims, and the arbitrator thereafter issued his “Findings, Conclusions, and Award.”

3  The 065  agreement was not made part of the record on appeal, nor was it presented to the trial court. Any reference to the title or the contents of the 065 Agreement we take from filings that were included in the  record. Section 537.065, which will be discussed extensively in our analysis, allows an injured party and tortfeasor to enter into an agreement to limit the injured party’s recovery to the tortfeasor’s applicable insurance limits if the insurer has refused to defend the tortfeasor.

        The award first described procedural aspects of the arbitration proceeding, including that: (1) Prior to the arbitration, Insured submitted an Arbitration Statement detailing his defense; (2) Both parties presented opening statements at the arbitration; (3) Insured was given the opportunity to cross-examine M.O.’s witnesses and elicit testimony for Insured’s defense; (4) Insured submitted as exhibits three internet articles discussing HPV; (5) M.O. requested an award of $9.9 million in damages in her closing argument; and (6) In his closing argument, Insured disputed that he was aware he could transmit HPV to M.O., M.O. received HPV from him, he had a duty to disclose such diagnosis to M.O., and the amount of damages.

        As to his substantive findings, the arbitrator determined that: (1) “there was sexual activity in [Insured’s] automobile in November/December of 2017 which occurred in Jackson County, Missouri”; (2) the sexual activity in Insured’s vehicle “directly caused, or directly contributed to cause, M.O. to be infected with HPV”; (3) Insured knew he had “been told that his throat cancer tumor was diagnosed as HPV positive”; (4) Insured should have disclosed his diagnosis to M.O. prior to the sexual activity that occurred, but he did not; and (5) Insured “was negligent and is liable for causing M.O. to contract HPV.” The arbitrator found that “an amount that would fairly and justly compensate Plaintiff, M.O., for all of her damages and injuries is $5,200,000,” and entered an award in that amount “in favor of Plaintiff M.O. and against the Defendant [Insured].”

        On May 24, 2021, M.O. provided written notice to GEICO that she and Insured had entered into an agreement pursuant to section 537.065. The following day, M.O. initiated this action by filing her Petition for Damages in the trial court.4 On June 10, 2021, GEICO discovered the existence of this lawsuit by monitoring Case.net (Missouri state courts’ automated case management system). On June 18th, GEICO filed a motion to intervene.

        On June 22nd, M.O. filed a response to GEICO’s motion to intervene and a motion to confirm the arbitration award. In her motion to confirm the award, M.O. asserted she and Insured had agreed “that after an arbitration award is issued, [M.O.] will immediately seek to have the award confirmed . . . and reduced to judgment . . . and that neither party will seek judicial review of the award or attempt to have the award set aside, modified, amended or changed in any way unless by express written agreement of each party.” On June 29th, GEICO filed a reply in support of its motion to intervene. On July 2nd, the trial court granted M.O.’s motion to confirm the arbitration award and entered judgment in favor of M.O. and against Insured in the amount of $5,200,000. The trial court adopted and incorporated the findings and conclusions of the arbitration award, and stated the award was attached to the judgment as Exhibit A. No exhibit was attached to the judgment. Also on July 2nd, after entering judgment, the trial court entered an order granting GEICO’s motion to intervene.

        On July 30th, GEICO filed a motion for leave to conduct discovery, a motion for new trial, and a motion to vacate the arbitration award. In the latter two motions, GEICO asserted that the arbitration award and judgment confirming it should be vacated because the award “was procured by collusion, fraud, [and] undue means,” it was “contrary to public policy and §§ 537.065 and 435.350,” it was the result of an invalid and unenforceable arbitration agreement, and it violated GEICO’s due process rights and right to access the courts. The parties submitted additional briefing on GEICO’s motions. On September 8, 2021, the trial court summarily denied all of the motions and entered a “Judgment Nunc Pro Tunc,” attaching the arbitration award that was inadvertently omitted from the original judgment.

        GEICO appeals, asserting three claims of error relating to the trial court’s confirmation of the arbitration award—specifically, to the timing of the trial court’s confirmation.5 GEICO asserts that by confirming the arbitration award without giving GEICO a meaningful opportunity to defend its interests and develop facts and arguments pre-judgment, the trial court acted in contravention of section 537.065 and Rule 52.12 (Point I), section 435.405 (Point II), and state and federal constitutional provisions guaranteeing due process and access to the courts (Point III).
What most articles and headlines obscure or gloss over is the fact that GEICO commenced an action for a declaration of non-coverage against both the claimant "M.O." and its insured in US District Court for the Western District of Missouri in April 2021.  Not surprisingly, GEICO's primary argument is that contracting an STD from having sex in a car does not constitute bodily injury arising out of the ownership, maintenance of use of the insured motor vehicle.  It arises out of, so to speak, something  else.  

GECIO's Second Amended Complaint for Declaratory Judgment states as the Nature of Action and Relief Sought of its DJ action:
        1.    This is an action for declaratory relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2201 for the purpose of  determining the Parties’ rights and obligations, if any, under a[] [$1 million] automobile insurance  policy (the “Auto Policy”) issued by GEICO General Insurance Company and [a $1 million] umbrella insurance polic[y] (the “Umbrella Policy”) issued by Government Employees Insurance Company (collectively, the “Policies”) to Brauner.
        2.    GEICO seeks a declaration that it has no duty under the Policies to defend or indemnify Brauner for the third party bodily injury liability claim asserted by M.O. (“the subject claim”).
        3.    On February 25, 2021, M.O. demanded that GEICO pay $1,000,000 to resolve  her “claims against [GEICO’s] insured” (i.e., Brauner). She included in her demand letter a proposed state court petition and indicated intent to file it should GEICO not satisfy her demand.
        4.    GEICO denies the existence of coverage under the Policies for the subject claim.
        5.    There is an actual, immediate controversy among the Parties as to whether coverage for the subject claim exists under the Policies.
        6.    All necessary and proper parties are before the Court with respect to the matters in controversy as set forth herein. 
        7.    GEICO has no adequate remedy at law. 
Footnote #1 to GEICO's Second Amended Complaint that for reasons not disclosed, the "Court’s October 20, 2021 order dismissed (previous defendant) M.O. from the case. Dkt. 52."

GEICO's Second Amended Complaint adds some factual context for the claimant's allegations:  
M.O.’s Threatened Tort Lawsuit Against M.B.
    14.    On February 25, 2021, M.O. sent GEICO a demand letter. The body of the letter stated, in its entirety:
Here’s the Petition that will be filed against your insured, [M.B.]. Before doing so, we have been authorized to make one final attempt to resolve [M.O.’s] claims against your insured for the applicable limits of $1m. Let me know.
    15.    M.O.’s proposed state court petition sought from M.B. damages for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

    16.    In it, M.O. alleges M.B. and M.O. entered into a sexual relationship in November  2017 and early December 2017, including that the two “engaged in unprotected sexual  activities, including intercourse, in Defendant [M.B.’s] home and in his 2014 Hyundai Genesis car.”

    17.    M.O. further alleges that M.B. negligently failed to tell M.O. that he was infected  with anogenital human papillomavirus (HPV), and that he failed to use adequate protection and take proper precautions to prevent its transmission to her.
It appears from the docket of GEICO's DJ action and the Scheduling Order that was filed on May 12, 2022 that discovery in the DJ action is underway and will be bifurcated:
The first phase of discovery in this action shall conclude August 15, 2022. Phase I discovery will include discovery of all issues relating to the parties’ anticipated dispositive motions directed to the threshold coverage issue. Phase II discovery will involve discovery relating to bad faith or extra-contractual claims, as well as any other merits issues. To the extent that issues overlap, the Court directs the parties to undertake discovery within Phase I.
You can mark your calendars as follows: 
July 15, 2022 -- Status report
July 29, 2022 -- Motion to join additional parties 
July 29, 2022 -- Motion to amend pleadings 
August 15, 2022 -- Close of Phase I discovery
August 31, 2022 -- Motions for Summary Judgment On Coverage Issue 
September 21, 2022 -- Motions Responses  
October 5, 2022 -- Motions Replies
I've got a Court Listener alert set up for GEICO's DJ action, and I'll post again when the MSJs are filed.  That should be some interesting reading, there.  Meanwhile, I'm predicting that the Missouri District Court will ultimately find in favor of GEICO and rule that M.O.'s contraction of HPV did not arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of Brauner's 2014 Hyundai Genesis.  

What I can guarantee is that this case will be in next semester's insurance law course syllabuses in law schools across the country.     

Fun facts to know and tell for coverage nerds (like me):
  • the term "anogenital human papillomavirus" has appeared in only one reported case state or federal court decision in the United States ever -- this case; 
  • although homeowners insurance policies typically contain a communicable disease exclusion, personal auto policies don't (Extra Credit Q: Because...?); 
  • the claimant originally filed a hit-and-run UM claim under her ex-BF's policy with GEICO (okay, that's not true); 
  • the insured sought physical damage coverage under his policy's explosion, colliding with bird or animal and/or civil commotion perils (okay, also not true); and 
  • GEICO originally commenced its DJ action in Kansas, but for "the convenience of the parties and in the interest of justice", the action was fittingly transferred to the show-me (yours and I'll show you mine) state of Missouri, the Kansas district court judge musing in the 2022 frontrunner for masterful understatement, "This isn't the typical insurance coverage dispute." NSS, judge.  NS. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Florida Public Adjuster Mike Keeler’s 4th (and 6th ) (Not-So) Outstanding Tips on How to File a Water Leak & Water Damage Claim

As a follow-up to my LinkedIn post earlier today (June 8th) about my (not-so) favorite Florida public adjuster Mike Keeler's YouTube video on "How To Get Insurance To Pay For Water Damage" (https://lnkd.in/gxdrjsr4), I offer for your (and hopefully the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation's) continued astonishment, bemusement and educational disvalue, Mr. Keeler's No. 4 (and 6th) (Not-So) Outstanding Tip on How To File a Water Leak & Water Damage Claim (title page and background music added). 

Mike's full YouTube video of all six (not-so) outstanding tips is here: https://lnkd.in/gMeXVM4B.

Speechless.  Just speechless. 🤦

#publicadjusters #insurancefraudisbad #FLpropertyinsurancereform



Monday, June 6, 2022

Paper Discovery in a Typical First-Party, Water-Damage-From-A-Roof-Leak Property Insurance Action

 Dear First-Party Property Claim Handlers, 

I've written and spoken many times on issues like report writing, claim log notation, privileges that apply (and don't apply) to claim file materials and communications with coverage and insured defense counsel, the scope of discovery in first-party property coverage litigation, and the like.   

Sometimes the best way to understand what could happen, is to see what has happened.  And so, for your review and rumination, I offer the following as what paper discovery typically looks like in a first-party, water-damage-from-a-roof-leak New York state court property insurance action (taken from an actual, pending case):

Plaintiff's Demand for Discovery & Inspection and Combined Demands Directed to [ABC] Insurance Company:

     6. The entire claim file maintained by [ABC] for Plaintiff or in any way relating to Plaintiff, including but not limited to electronic notes, computer entries, emails, memorandum, telephone messages, correspondence, account information, billing information, contact information, file jacket notes, contracts, agreements and applications.

NOTE: “[T]he payment or rejection of claims is a part of the regular business of an insurance company. Consequently, reports which aid it in the process of deciding which of the two indicated actions to pursue are made in the regular course of its business” (Landmark Ins. Co. v. Beau Rivage Rest., 121 A.D.2d 98, 101, 509 N.Y.S.2d 819). Reports prepared by insurance investigators, adjusters, or attorneys before the decision is made to pay or reject a claim are thus not privileged and are discoverable (see Landmark Ins. Co. v. Beau Rivage Rest., supra at 101, 509 N.Y.S.2d 819; see also Bertalo's Rest. v. Exchange Ins. Co., 240 A.D.2d 452, 454, 658 N.Y.S.2d 656; Roman Catholic Church of Good Shepherd v. Tempco Sys., 202 A.D.2d 257, 258, 608 N.Y.S.2d 647; Paramount Ins. Co. v. Eli Constr. Gen. Contr., 159 A.D.2d 447, 553 N.Y.S.2d 127), even when those reports are “mixed/multi-purpose” reports, motivated in part by the potential for litigation with the insured (see Landmark Ins. Co. v. Beau Rivage Rest., supra at 102, 509 N.Y.S.2d 819; see also McKie v. Taylor, 146 A.D.2d 921, 536 N.Y.S.2d 893).
    7. The entire non-privileged underwriting file for this matter stated in the Complaint (or most current pleading, if amended).

     8. True and complete copies of all documentation, correspondence, reports, notes, or memorandum regarding any inspections, or investigations of the instant claim by [ABC] or a third-party on [ABC]’s behalf.
     9. All correspondence regarding the matter alleged in the Complaint sent to any governmental entity, including, but not limited to, the Department of Financial Services or Secretary of State.
     10. A complete electronic copy of each and every audio recording of any representative of Plaintiff or any Defendant herein. If it will be claimed that said recordings are no longer in existence, provide an affidavit with regard to the date and time of their destruction, including the name of the individual who destroyed same, reference to the rule or directive pertaining to the destruction of the recording, and a transcript of said recording.
     11. True and complete copies of all documentation, correspondence, reports, notes, emails, or memorandum between [ABC]and Plaintiff or anyone on Plaintiff’s behalf.
     12. True and complete copies of all documentation, correspondence, reports, notes, emails, or memorandum between [ABC] and any other party (with the exception of post disclaimer communications with legal counsel) with reference to Plaintiff and/or the Subject Claim.
     13. True and complete copy of the entire file maintained with regard to Plaintiff and/or the subject property, previous properties, or vehicles.
     14. True and complete certified copies of each insurance policy issued to the Plaintiff by [ABC] or its agents.
     PLEASE BE ADVISED, to the extent that any documents are claimed privileged, a privilege log is demanded to be furnished.

If you think many or most of these things are not discoverable, think again.  

If you're not familiar with the scope of discovery in coverage litigation, take a few minutes and read my blog posts for the Attorney-Client Privilege label and Discovery labelSee, also, Devaul v. Erie Ins. Co., 2019 N.Y. Slip Op. 34261(U) (Sup.Ct., Onondaga Co., 2019) and my Communications Between Outside Coverage Counsel and His Insurer Client Regarding "the Investigation and Potential Rescission of a Claim" Ordered Disclosed post from this past February.

Be advised and guided accordingly.

Cordially, 

Your Favorite (and Perhaps Only) Logophile Friend, 

Roy

Saturday, June 4, 2022

"Personal Injury" (Defamation) Coverage under a PULP -- Depp v. Heard Defense Costs







From my LinkedIn post today (Sat., June 4, 2022):

I rarely learn anything useful from the New York Post, but this article reports that Amber Heard "had to switch legal representation and is relying on her homeowner’s #insurance policy to cover the cost of her attorneys in the case. The bill for Heard’s attorney has mostly been footed by The Travelers Companies, Inc under terms of the actress’s insurance policy, sources said." "Mostly" likely because Travelers would not be responsible for paying attorneys' fees and costs associated with the prosecution of Heard's $100 million counterclaim against Depp.

Most homeowners policies don't provide coverage for "personal injury", defined to include "injury arising out of one or more of the following offenses, but only if the offense was committed during the policy period: *** 4. Oral or written publication of material that slanders or libels a person or organization or disparages a person's or organization's goods, products or services[.]" Personal umbrella policies typically provide "personal injury" coverage. I'm guessing that the Travelers policy that provided defense costs is a PULP (personal umbrella liability policy) sitting above Heard's homeowners policy.

The article is probably correct, however, in pointing out that Heard's policy with Travelers will likely NOT provide indemnification coverage for Johnny Depp's $10 million compensatory damages verdict against Heard. PULPs typically exclude personal injury coverage for:
"Personal injury":
a.  Caused by or at the direction of an "insured" with the knowledge that the act would violate the rights of another and would inflict "personal injury";
b.  Arising out of oral or written publication of material, if done by or at the direction of the "insured" with knowledge of its falsity;
c.  Arising out of oral or written publication of material whose first publication took place before the beginning of the policy period;
d.   Arising out of a criminal act committed by or at the direction of an "insureds"; or
e.  Sustained by any person as a result of an offense directly or indirectly related to the employment of this person by the "insured"[.]
The jury's positive finding on each of the prima facie elements of defamation on the three statements in Heard's op ed piece likely triggers at least one of these exclusionary provisions--"b."--and possibly two of them--"a." and "b."

I'm no bankruptcy lawyer but I do know that judgments based on intentional torts, like libel with malice aforethought, are NOT dischargeable in bankruptcy.

#personalinjury #defamation #insurancecoverageinthenews


Monday, May 16, 2022

4 + 2 ≠ "Residence Premises"

Last week I received a favorable decision and order for one of my insurer clients from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in a number-of-families homeowners policy application misrepresentation case. My client had denied coverage for the Brooklyn, NY fire loss based, in part, on the application misrepresentation but did not rescind the homeowners policy (that's a thing). I conducted the policyholder's EUO and defended the policyholder's subsequent breach of contract action.

The Decision & Order begins:
The material facts, which cannot be disputed, are simple: In his insurance application, plaintiff stated that his property had three units, with three families living in them. The policy that Nationwide issued to him covered "one, two, three or four-family" dwellings. In fact, plaintiff's building had at least six units, rented to unrelated tenants. After the fire, Nationwide discovered the additional units and denied coverage. As explained below, Nationwide was entitled to do so and consequently will be granted summary judgment.
And adds:
Plaintiff contends that the language of the Policy is ambiguous, preventing the Court from granting summary judgment. * * * He argues that because the Policy uses the term “one, two, three, or four family dwelling” rather than “one, two, three, or four unit building,” it is irrelevant that there were at least six separate residential units in the Subject Premises. ***

Neither logic nor precedent supports plaintiff's hair-splitting argument. To the contrary: the New York courts have repeatedly explained that terms like “four family dwelling” are unambiguous. 
The Court granted summary judgment to Nationwide based solely on the uncontroverted fact that at the time of the fire, the dwelling did not meet the policy's definition of a "residence premises" (because it was MORE than a four-family dwelling).

The Court also rejected plaintiff's negligence argument (viz, that Nationwide could've and should've discovered the extra, illegal apartments before the fire) and, given its ruling on the residence premises issue, did not reach Nationwide's alternative argument that the Policy was void because plaintiff intentionally misrepresented the material fact or circumstance of how many families lived within and how many units comprised the Subject Premises at the time he filled out his application.

You can read the decision by clicking the image below: