Justia Maryland Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals concluding that prejudgment interest on defense costs where a party breaches its duty to defend does not fall within the exception to the "modified discretionary approach" and is within the discretion of the fact-finder.The modified discretionary approach used by Maryland courts in awarding prejudgment interest generally places the award of prejudgment interest within the discretion of the trier of fact but also recognizes exceptions where a plaintiff is entitled to prejudgment interest as a matter of right. At issue was whether prejudgment interest should be awarded as a matter of right. The Court of Appeals held (1) prejudgment interest on defense costs is left to the discretion of the fact-finder; and (2) where the jury in this case was not presented with a claim of prejudgment interest, was not instructed on the issue, and did not separately state an award of prejudgment interest in the verdict, the circuit court was not authorized to award prejudgment interest. View "Nationwide Property & Casualty Insurance Co. v. Selective Way Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals held that a change in life insurance beneficiary constitutes a conveyance under the Maryland Uniform Fraudulent Conveyance Act (MUFCA), Md. Code Comm. Law 15-201(c), and that a guardian of property is not granted the authority to change a life insurance beneficiary on a policy of the ward under section 15-102(t) of the Estates and Trusts Article (ET).In a case arising from a decade-long dispute between the adult children of the Buckingham family and United Bank, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland certified two questions of law to the Court of Appeals regarding whether the children intentionally defrauded the Bank when they successfully diverted significant amounts of life insurance proceeds away from the declining family business and to their personal use. The Court of Appeals answered the questions as follows: (1) a change of the beneficiary designation of a life insurance policy constitutes a conveyance under MUFCA; and (2) the guardian of property does not have the authority to change the beneficiary on a life insurance policy of a ward under ET 15-102(t). View "United Bank v. Buckingham" on Justia Law

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In two cases involving similar underlying facts and an identical legal issue the Court of Appeals held that the phrase "damage to property," incorporated by reference in the uninsured motorist statute, requires an insurer to reimburse loss of use damages, such as rental car costs, to an insured.At issue was whether the Maryland Uninsured Motorist statutory provision of Md. Code Ann., Ins. 19-509(e)(1) and the provisions of Title 17 of the Transportation Article and Title 20 Subtitle 6 of the Insurance Article require an insurer to pay benefits for loss of use of a vehicle damaged by an uninsured driver. The Court of Appeals held that the phrase "damage to property," as incorporated by reference in the uninsured motorist statute, embraces loss of use damages caused by an uninsured driver, regardless of any limitations or omissions that may exist in the applicable policy of insurance. View "Berry v. Queen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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The Court of Appeals held that the statute of limitations begins to run in an underinsured motorist claim against an insurer when the insurer breaches the contract to provide underinsured motorist benefits by denying the insured's claim.Insured was injured in an automobile accident with an underinsured motorist. The underinsured tortfeasor extended to Insured a policy limits settlement offer of $20,000. Insured accepted the offer and then attempted to collect additional underinsured motorist benefits from Insurer. The motor vehicle liability insurance policy covered up to $300,000 per person for bodily injury caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist. Insured later filed suit against Insurer seeking the balance of unpaid damages not covered by the $20,000 settlement. The circuit court dismissed the complaint as untimely. The Court of Special Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the statute of limitations in an underinsured motorist claim begins to run when the insurer denies an insured's demand for benefits, thereby breaching the insurance contract; and (2) Insured's underinsured motorist claim was not time barred. View "Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. v. Shilling" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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The Court of Appeals held that the statute of limitations begins to run on an underinsured motorist claim when the insurer breaches the contract to provide underinsured motorist benefits by denying the insured's claim, thereby breaching the insurance contract.Margaret Shilling was injured in an automobile accident with Barbara Gates, an underinsured motorist. Gates was insured by Agency Insurance Company of Maryland (Agency) under a policy that provided up to $20,000 per person in bodily injury coverage. Shilling was insured by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company under a policy that included uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage in the amount of $300,000 per person in bodily injury coverage. After Agency and Shilling settled Shilling sued Nationwide seeking the balance of unpaid damages not covered by Agency's $20,000 settlement. Nationwide moved to dismiss, arguing that the claim was time barred under the three-year statute of limitations set forth in Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Jud. Proc. A 5-101. The circuit court granted the motion to dismiss. The court of special appeals ultimately reversed, holding that the suit was not time-barred. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the statute of limitations begins to run upon the insurer's breach of the insurance contract, which occurs when the insurer refuses to pay underinsured motorist benefits. View "Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. v. Shilling" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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In this case brought against an insurer in Plaintiff's attempt to collect on a judgment in his favor in a strict liability and negligent failure to warn action, the Court of Appeals held that damages from a continuous bodily injury judgment must be allocated on a pro rata, time-on-the-risk basis across all insured and insurable periods triggered by Plaintiff's injuries.Almost forty years after exposure to asbestos at his place of work, Plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Plaintiff won a nearly $2.7 million judgment against the asbestos installer. Plaintiff then initiated garnishment proceedings against Defendant as insurer of the asbestos installer. At issue before the circuit court was how to allocate loss among various trigger insurance policies because the installer was only insured by Defendant from 1974 to 1977 through four comprehensive general liability policies. The circuit court concluded that Plaintiff's damages must be allocated on a pro rata, time-on-the risk basis across all insured and insurable periods triggered by Plaintiff's injuries. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court properly applied the pro rata allocation approach rather than a joint-and-several approach that would have required the insurer to cover the entire judgment. View "Rossello v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The application of Georgia law concerning a pollution exclusion contained in an insurance policy as excluding coverage for bodily injuries resulting from the ingestion of lead-based paint under the principle of lex loci contractus does not violate Maryland public policy.Appellants were exposed to lead-based paint at a property owned by the Salvation Army. Appellants sued Defendants, alleging lead-based paint related tort claims. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company issued comprehensive general liability insurance policies to the Salvation Army. The policies, which were purchased in Georgia, did not include lead-based paint exclusion provisions but did include pollution exclusion provisions. Appellants sought affirmation that Liberty Mutual was obligated to indemnify the Salvation Army and defend against Appellants’ claims. Liberty Mutual moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Maryland courts follow the doctrine of lex loci contracts in choosing the applicable law and that, under Georgia law, the insurance policy did not cover claims for lead-based paint poisoning. The Supreme Court held that application of Georgia law concerning the policy’s pollution exclusion under the principle of lex loci contracts does not violate Maryland public policy. View "Brownlee v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the finding of the Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) that Employer and Insurer (collectively, Respondents) were entitled to offset the ordinary disability benefits already paid to Petitioner against the temporary total disability benefits paid to him by Respondents.Petitioner suffered injuries primarily to his back and neck while working for Employer. Employer received two different sets of disability benefits from Employer and Insurer, each awarded by a different state agency. Specifically, Petitioner was granted temporary total disability benefits by the WCC and ordinary disability benefits by the State Retirement Agency. The WCC found that Respondents were entitled to a credit for the ordinary disability benefits already paid to Petitioner. On judicial review, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the WCC. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that because both sets of benefits compensated Petitioner for the same injury, pursuant to Md. Code Ann. Lab. & Empl. 9-610, the statutory offset properly applied to prevent a double recovery for the same injury. View "Reger v. Washington County Board of Education" on Justia Law

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This case related to three actions: (1) an Endangered Species Act case (ESA case), where the Fund for Animals, Inc. (FFA) and other plaintiffs sued Ringling Brothers and its owner, Feld Entertainment, (collectively, Feld) for the mistreatment of Asian elephants in the Ringling Brothers’ Circus; (2) the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act case (RICO case), where Feld sued FFA and the other plaintiffs in the ESA case for improper conduct; and (3) the coverage case, where FFA sued its insurer (National Union) for not providing coverage to FFA when it was sued by Feld in the RICO case. The findings in the ESA case were adverse to FFA and could have been used against it in the RICO case, thus prejudicing National Union. In this appeal stemming from the coverage dispute, FFA argued that although notice of the RICO claim was late under the policy, the late notification was not prejudicial to National Union. The circuit court entered judgment in favor of National Union. The Court of Special Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that National Union was not prejudiced in investigating, settling, or defending the RICO claim as a result of any delay in receiving notice of claims brought by FFA. View "National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa. v. Fund for Animals, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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At issue in this case was whether an insured may receive personal injury protection (PIP) coverage under a personal motor vehicle liability insurance policy for injuries sustained while driving a taxicab owned by the insured but not covered by the personal motor vehicle liability insurance policy where the policy contains an exclusion for motor vehicles owned but not insured under the policy. The Maryland Insurance Commissioner concluded that the insurer’s denial of coverage was unlawful in this case. The circuit court reversed. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that an insurer of a personal motor vehicle liability insurance policy, which includes PIP coverage, is not responsible, as a result of the application of the personal motor vehicle liability insurance policy’s owned but not insured exclusion, for PIP coverage for injuries the insured sustained while driving a taxicab owned by the insured but not covered by the personal motor vehicle liability insurance policy. View "Maryland Insurance Administration v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law