Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont (Blue Cross) appealed the Green Mountain Care Board’s (GMCB) decision modifying its proposed health-insurance rates for 2022. The GMCB approved Blue Cross’s proposed rates with several exceptions, one of which was relevant here: its contribution to reserves (CTR). Blue Cross had sought a base CTR rate of 1.5%, but the GMCB ordered Blue Cross to lower it to 1.0%, thereby diminishing overall insurance rates by 0.5% and reducing health-insurance premiums. The GMCB found that a 1.5% base CTR was “excessive” because Blue Cross was expected to be above its target Risk Based Capital (RBC) range by the end of 2021, “individuals and small businesses are still struggling financially after a year-long economic slowdown,” and a 1.0% CTR would allow its “reserves to sit comfortably within the company’s RBC target range.” Blue Cross moved for reconsideration, arguing that the term “excessive” was strictly actuarial in nature, and that the GMCB misconstrued it by weighing non-actuarial evidence— testimony concerning affordability—as part of its examination of whether the proposed rate was excessive. On appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, Blue Cross raised essentially the same issue. Because none of the actuarial experts who testified concluded that Blue Cross’s proposed CTR was excessive, Blue Cross argued, the GMCB could not properly conclude that it was. Blue Cross conceded that health-insurance rates for 2022 could not now be changed, but it urged the Supreme Court to rule on the merits, arguing that this matter was not moot because the CTR rate for this year will disadvantage Blue Cross in future rate-review proceedings. The Supreme Court determined Blue Cross did not demonstrate that this kind of case was capable of repetition yet evading review or subjected it to continuing negative collateral consequences. Therefore, Blue Cross failed to meet the exceptional thresholds necessary for the Court to reach the merits in a moot case. View "In re Blue Cross and Blue Shield 2022 Individual & Small Group Market Filing" on Justia Law

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Bliss Sequoia Insurance and Risk Advisors held an insurance policy from Allied Property and Casualty Insurance (Allied Property) covering any liability that Bliss Sequoia might incur for “damages because of ‘bodily injury.’” One of Bliss Sequoia’s clients was a water park, and after a park guest was injured, the park sued Bliss Sequoia for professional negligence, alleging that the coverage limits on the park’s liability insurance were too low. This appeal presents the question whether that negligence claim arose “because of” the guest’s “bodily injury” and is therefore covered by Bliss Sequoia’s policy. We agree with the district court that the answer is no.   The panel affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Allied Property. Allied’s policy provided that it covered any sums Bliss Sequoia was “legally obligated to pay as damages because of ‘bodily injury’ or ‘property damage.’” Bliss Sequoia alleged that the bodily injury at issue was a “but-for” cause of Bliss Sequoia’s professional-negligence liability. The panel held that pure but-for causation would result in infinite liability for all wrongful acts, and therefore, the law almost never employs that standard without limiting it in some way. The law cuts off remote chains of causation by applying common law principles of proximate causation. Further, the personal-injury lawsuit against the water park arose “because of bodily injury,” but the claims of professional negligence did not. Because Bliss Sequoia’s policy did not cover those claims, Allied had no duty to defend or indemnify Bliss Sequoia against them. View "BLISS SEQUOIA INSURANCE, ET AL V. ALLIED PROPERTY & CASUALTY INS" on Justia Law

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Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company (“Farm Bureau”) issued a term life insurance policy to S.M. S.M.’s husband, Plaintiff, who was the policy’s primary beneficiary. Farm Bureau received a notification from the Post Office indicating that S.M.’s address had changed. Farm Bureau sent its semiannual bill to S.M. at her South Carolina address, informing her that her payment was due on November 23, 2016. S.M. did not pay the bill. Plaintiff sued Farm Bureau in federal district court, seeking the policy’s coverage amount as well as excess damages for alleged unfair and deceptive trade practices on the part of Farm Bureau. He argued that Farm Bureau had not complied with a statutory notice requirement prior to canceling the insurance policy for nonpayment and he was therefore entitled to the policy’s benefits. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment to Farm Bureau.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed finding that Farm Bureau complied with the statute’s notice requirement. The court wrote that a literal interpretation of the statute’s language—referring to a notice being sent to the “last known post-office address in this State”—would not put S.M. on notice at all. Rather it would have Farm Bureau send “notice” to an address where it knows she no longer resides. Additionally, there is substance in Farm Bureau’s argument that a rigidly literal reading of the words “in this State” would require insurers to implement burdensome and nonsensical notice policies. View "Robert Whitmire v. Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Olson and Zdroik sustained injuries while volunteering at municipal fireworks displays in 2018. Fireworks distributed by Spielbauer Fireworks exploded prematurely at both events, severely burning the two. Both towns used teams of volunteers to operate their Fourth of July displays. Olson opened and closed a bin from which other volunteers retrieved fireworks during the Rib Lake show. Zdroik worked at the Land O’Lakes event as a “shooter,” manually lighting the fuses on mortar shells.Spielbauer’s insurer, T.H.E. Insurance, contested coverage under Spielbauer’s general and excess liability policies, which stated: This policy shall NOT provide coverage of any kind ... for any claims arising out of injuries or death to shooters or their assistants hired to perform fireworks displays or any other persons assisting or aiding in the display of fireworks whether or not any of the foregoing are employed by the Named Insured, any shooter or any assistant. The issue was whether the exclusion extends to all volunteers or only to those assisting hired shooters or hired assistants.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, in favor of T.H.E. Insurance. The Shooters Endorsement plainly and unambiguously excludes from coverage hired shooters and their hired assistants and “any other persons” who assist the fireworks display, regardless of whether they assist hired persons. View "T.H.E. Insurance Co. v. Olson" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Javier Vasquez and his employer, Matosantos International Corporation (MIC), appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) determination that it could not order respondent, The Hartford Insurance Company, to pay workers’ compensation benefits to Vasquez. The CAB concluded that the Department of Labor (DOL), and therefore the CAB, lacked jurisdiction under the New Hampshire Workers’ Compensation Law to interpret the workers’ compensation insurance policy that MIC had purchased from The Hartford. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the CAB did have jurisdiction to consider and resolve the coverage dispute between MIC and The Hartford, it vacated the CAB’s decision and remanded for its consideration, in the first instance, of whether the policy purchased by MIC covered Vasquez when he was injured while working in New Hampshire. View "Appeal of Vasquez" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), sought reversal of a Court of Appeals decision affirming the partial summary judgment rulings that an “all risk” insurance policy did not provide coverage for certain losses. At issue in WSDOT’s petition for review was whether the loss of use or functionality of the insured property constituted “physical loss” or “physical damage” that triggered coverage. STP’s petition asked whether the insurance policy excluded coverage for damage to the insured property caused by alleged design defects and whether the policy covers delay losses. This case arose out of a major construction project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle. In 2011, STP contracted with WSDOT to construct a tunnel to replace the viaduct. The project started in July 2013. A tunnel boring machine (TBM) used in the project stopped working in December 2013, and did not resume until December 2015. The project was unable to continue during the two-year period while the TBM was disassembled, removed, and repaired. STP and WSDOT tendered insurance claims under the Policy. Great Lakes denied coverage, and STP and WSDOT sued the insurers, alleging wrongful denial of their claims. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding that even if it interpreted “direct physical loss or damage” to include loss of use, no coverage under Section 1 is triggered because the alleged loss of use was not caused by a physical condition impacting the insured property. View "Seattle Tunnel Partners v. Great Lakes Reinsurance (UK) PLC" on Justia Law

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Lanclos was born in 1982 at the Keesler Air Force Base Medical Center. During childbirth, she was seriously injured and as a result, suffers from Athetoid cerebral palsy. The settlement agreement for Lanclos’s medical malpractice suit required the government to make lump sum payments to Lanclos’s parents and their attorney; Lanclos would receive a single lump sum payment followed by specific monthly payments for the longer of 30 years or the remainder of her life. The government would purchase an annuity policy to provide the monthly payments. The government selected Executive Insurance to provide the monthly annuity payments. Executive encountered financial difficulties and, in 2014, reduced the amount of the monthly payments by 42%. Lanclos estimates that the reduction will result in a shortfall of $731,288.81 from the amount described in the settlement agreement.The Court of Federal Claims reasoned that the “guarantee” language in the Lanclos agreement applies to the scheduled monthly structure of the payments but not the actual payment of the listed amounts and that the government was not liable for the shortfall. The Federal Circuit reversed. Under the ordinary meaning of the term “guarantee” and consistent with the agreement as a whole, the government agreed to assure fulfillment of the listed monthly payments; there is no reasonable basis to conclude that the parties sought to define “guarantee” or to give the term an alternative meaning. View "Lanclos v. United States" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to an arbitration award, American Home paid workers’ compensation benefits to an employee injured in 2008. American did not file a notice before the arbitration that, pursuant to Iowa Code 85.21, it was paying the claim subject to a potential coverage issue. By 2013, American paid all the benefits owed under the arbitration award. In 2016, the employee sought to reopen the case. American then filed a section 85.21 notice seeking reimbursement of benefits paid to the employee, claiming that on the date of injury Liberty Mutual was providing the employer with workers’ compensation coverage.The workers’ compensation commissioner concluded that in order to be entitled to reimbursement, American was required to file section 85.21 notice before the arbitration proceeding and could not, years later, seek to be reimbursed. The district court reversed, reasoning that section 85.21 gave the commissioner broad power to order reimbursement, not time-limited in the statute. The court of appeals, agreeing with the commissioner, reversed. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed. The commissioner may require that insurance carriers obtain a section 85.21 reimbursement order before an evidentiary hearing in order to seek indemnity or contribution from another carrier. The procedural question is not controlled by the substantive provisions of section 85.21. The commissioner has simply established a rule of procedure for handling section 85.21 claims. View "American Home Assurance v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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A Surety on a $50,000 bail bond appeals from an order denying its motion to set aside a summary judgment entered on the bond. Surety contends the summary judgment entered on the bail bond is voidable and must be vacated because it was not filed within 90 days after the appearance period expired as required by Penal 2 Code section 1306, subdivision (c).   The trial court concluded the Surety was estopped from arguing the reinstatement order was void. As Surety’s challenge to the summary judgment was based on the invalidity of the reinstatement order, the court concluded that the challenge must fail.   The Fifth Appellate District agreed with Surety’s contention that the trial court lacked the authority to reinstate the bond after the appearance period expired. However, the trial court correctly decided that Surety’s conduct estopped it from raising the invalidity of the reinstatement order as a basis for vacating the summary judgment. Here, Surety (1) had prior notice that a reinstatement order would be entered, (2) gave its written consent to the reinstatement, (3) paid a $50 reinstatement fee a few days after the reinstatement order, and (4) benefited when the forfeited $50,000 bail bond was reinstated. Furthermore, the trial court relied on Surety’s consent when it vacated the forfeiture and reinstated the bail bond. The court concluded such circumstances estop Surety from arguing the reinstatement order was invalid. Because the invalidity of the reinstatement order is a necessary condition to Surety’s argument that the summary judgment is voidable. View "P. v. Accredited Surety and Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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Prate, a construction contractor, sought coverage through the Illinois Assigned Risk Plan, which provides workers’ compensation insurance coverage through a risk pool administered by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). Liberty was assigned as Prate’s carrier. After determining that Prate’s subcontractor, ARW, did not have workers’ compensation insurance, Liberty assessed Prate an additional premium of $127,305. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, which provides dispute resolution services for NCCI, declined to rule on the dispute, citing insufficient information. Prate appealed to the Department of Insurance (DOI) under Insurance Code section 462. One of Prate’s arguments was that ARW had no employees and that all work on Prate projects was performed by RTS, which had workers’ compensation insurance. The DOI’s hearing officer agreed with Liberty on all issues. The circuit court affirmed. While an appeal was pending, the appellate court issued its ruling in a dispute between Liberty and a trucking company, finding that DOI did not have the authority to resolve a dispute concerning employment status.The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the trial court decision. The DOI had the authority to resolve the dispute under 215 ILCS 5/462. While section 462 does not apply to all insurance premium disputes but only to those involving the application of a rating system to a party’s insurance, the existence of a single factual dispute does not preclude review under section 462. View "Prate Roofing and Installations, LLC v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Corp." on Justia Law