Justia Rhode Island Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Insurance Law
Hebert v. City of Woonsocket
The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court that granted a preliminary injunction in favor of Plaintiffs restraining the City of Woonsocket from changing the terms of Plaintiffs' retiree health insurance, holding that the City had the statutory authority to make changes to Plaintiffs' health care benefits. Plaintiffs, several retried Woonsocket police officers, brought this action against the City and the Woonsocket Budget Commission (the WBC). The superior court granted a preliminary injunction for Plaintiffs and reinstated Plaintiffs' previous postretirement health care benefits. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding that the trial justice (1) did not err when he found that Plaintiffs had a vested contractual right to free lifetime health care benefits; (2) erred when he found that the WBC lacked statutory authority when it adopted the Retiree Resolutions that required Plaintiffs to contribute to their health care expenses; and (3) erred in finding that the WBC violated the Contract Clause of the Rhode Island Constitution when it required Plaintiffs to pay for their health insurance under a new uniform health care plan applicable to all retirees and employees. The Court remanded the case to the trial justice for additional findings. View "Hebert v. City of Woonsocket" on Justia Law
Bacon Construction Co. v. Arbella Protection Insurance Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court granting summary judgment in favor of Insurer and Plaintiff's claims alleging that Insurer was contractually obligated to provide insurance coverage to Plaintiff, which was listed as an additional issued on the relevant insurance policy, holding that Insurer had no duty to defend Plaintiff. Plaintiff, the general contractor for a construction project, subcontracted with Insured for structural work on the project. Insured purchased a commercial general liability insurance policy from Insurer, which named Plaintiff as an additional insured. The policy provided for defense and indemnification costs to Insured for its work on the project. Insured's employee (Employee), who sustained injuries while working on the construction project site, filed a complaint against Plaintiff, alleging that Plaintiff's negligent acts were the proximate cause of his injuries. Plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that Insurer was contractually obligated to indemnify and defend Plaintiff as an additional insured relative to the Employee action. The superior court justice granted summary judgment for Insurer. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Employee's complaint was devoid of any allegations that brought the underlying case within the coverage of the policy, and therefore, Insurer had no duty to defend Plaintiff. View "Bacon Construction Co. v. Arbella Protection Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Summit Insurance Co. v. Stricklett
The Supreme Court affirmed the trial justice's judgment in favor of Summit Insurance Company in this declaratory judgment action seeking to clarify Summit’s liability for prejudgment interest and damages above the policy limits set forth in Summit’s automobile insurance contract with its insured, Eric Stricklett, holding that Summit owed no duty to Scott, John, and Cathy Alves. A car operated by Stricklett struck and injured Scott Alves. Stricklett’s vehicle was insured by Summit under a policy with a $25,000 per person, $50,000 per accident coverage limit. The Alveses sent Scott’s hospital bills to Summit, but Summit informed the Alveses that it had determined that Stricklett was not at fault for Scott’s injuries. The Alveses later made a settlement demand of $300,000 to Summit. Summit offered its policy limits on behalf of Stricklett, but the Alveses rejected the offer. Summit then filed this action requesting that the court determine whether Summit had an obligation to pay any sums beyond its policy limits. The trial justice granted judgment in favor of Summit. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the duty of an insurer to affirmatively settle an insurance claim on behalf of its insured does not apply with equal force to third-party claimants in the form of a duty of good faith and fair dealing. View "Summit Insurance Co. v. Stricklett" on Justia Law
Posted in: Insurance Law
Hudson v. GEICO Insurance Agency, Inc.
Plaintiff, who was injured while rendering roadside aid as a Good Samaritan, was “occupying” the insured vehicle for purposes of underinsured motorist (UM) coverage and was therefore entitled to recover under the terms of a GEICO Insurance Agency, Inc. policy. Plaintiff was a passenger in a Saab driven by Gregory Hurst when the two witnessed an automobile collision. Plaintiff exited the Saab and was attempting to render assistance when she was struck by another car. Plaintiff settled a claim against the driver of the vehicle that hit her but claimed that she was not fully compensated for her injuries. Consequently, Plaintiff filed a claim with GEICO (Defendant) seeking relief through Hurst’s GEICO policy that insured the Saab. Defendant denied the claim on the ground that Plaintiff was not “occupying” the insured vehicle at the time of her injuries. Plaintiff then filed this action. The trial justice agreed with Defendant, concluding that Plaintiff could not recover UM benefits under the terms of the GEICO policy. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court, holding that Plaintiff was entitled to recover under the terms of the policy. View "Hudson v. GEICO Insurance Agency, Inc." on Justia Law
Chase v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Co.
Some four years after Plaintiff suffered a casualty loss to his property, Plaintiff sued Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company (Defendant), which insured the property pursuant to a policy that it had issued to Plaintiff, alleging breach of contract and bad faith. Defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the claim must fail because Plaintiff did not fully comply with the provisions of the policy and because Plaintiff brought suit more than two years after the date of loss, in contravention of the terms of the insurance contract. The hearing justice granted Defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Plaintiff failed to adhere to the two-year limitation provision, Plaintiff was not entitled to relief. View "Chase v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Jackson v. Quincy Mutual Fire Insurance Co.
Plaintiff, the executrix of the estate of the decedent, brought a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that the estate was entitled to underinsured motorist coverage under a policy issued by Quincy Mutual policy. The motion justice determined that the decedent was “occupying” his owned-but-not-insured motorcycle at the time of his fatal injury, and therefore, an exclusion of the policy applied. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that summary judgment was inappropriate because the decedent was separated from his motorcycle at the time of his death and, therefore, was not occupying the motorcycle as that term was defined in the Quincy Mutual policy. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to what impact caused the decedent’s fatal injuries and the time or distance between them, precluding summary judgment. View "Jackson v. Quincy Mutual Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Faber v. McVay
Plaintiffs, Charles Faber and Karen Faber, filed suit against insurance agencies and related individuals, claiming insurance malpractice. Defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the statute of limitations. Plaintiffs responded that the limitation period was tolled because Charles could not reasonably have discovered the alleged insurance malpractice until a date within the limitations period because a reasonable person does not read his or her insurance policies. Summary judgment was entered for Defendants on grounds that Plaintiffs’ claims were time-barred under the three-year limitation period for insurance malpractice claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendants were untimely. View "Faber v. McVay" on Justia Law
Ajax Construction Co. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.
Mark Furia was injured while working for Ajax Construction Company. After Furia filed a petition against Ajax in the Workers’ Compensation Court, Ajax petitioned the Workers’ Compensation Court to determine which insurer - Beacon Mutual Insurance Company or Liberty Mutual Insurance Company - was obligated to pay Furia’s claim. The trial judge concluded that Ajax was liable to Furia and that Beacon was primarily liable to Furia. The judge also found that Ajax had dual or overlapping coverage regarding Furia’s claim and, given the overlapping coverage, Liberty must reimburse Beacon for fifty percent of the benefits that Beacon paid to Furia. The Appellate Division vacated the trial judge’s decree and ordered that Beacon be held fully responsible for paying workers’ compensation benefits to Furia and to reimburse Liberty for any benefits paid to beacon by Liberty under the prior decree. The Supreme Court quashed the Appellate Division’s decree, holding that the Appellate Division erred in finding Beacon solely responsible for the payment of Furia’s benefits. View "Ajax Construction Co. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. v. Dias
James Dias suffered serious injuries in a motorcycle accident. At the time of the accident, Dias and his wife (together, Defendants) were insured under two policies. One policy, which Progressive Northern Insurance Co. underwrote, covered the motorcycle that Defendant was operating when he was injured, and the second policy, underwritten by Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. (Plaintiff), covered Defendants’ automobiles. Dias sought to recover underinsured-motorist benefits from Progressive Casualty, asserting that he was entitled to those benefits under R.I. Gen. Laws 27-7-2.1(i). Plaintiff denied coverage and then filed a declaratory judgment action requesting that the superior court declare that section 27-7-2.1(i) is not applicable because Progressive Northern is a separate and distinct corporation and business entity from Progressive Casualty and, therefore, Plaintiff may disclaim coverage with respect to Dias’ claim. The hearing justice granted summary judgment for Plaintiff. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, with regard to section 27-7-2.1(i), Plaintiff and Progressive Northern are separate and distinct entities, each of which is also distinct from its common sole shareholder, The Progressive Corporation. View "Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. v. Dias" on Justia Law
Posted in: Insurance Law
Lemerise v. Commerce Ins. Co.
Plaintiff was a pedestrian in a crosswalk when he was struck by a vehicle operated by an uninsured motorist. Plaintiff, who was an insured under his mother’s automobile insurance policy, filed suit against The Commerce Insurance Company seeking uninsured motorist coverage for his injuries. The parties stayed the action pending arbitration pursuant to the terms of the policy. The arbitrator awarded Plaintiff a total of $197,550. Plaintiff filed a motion to confirm the arbitration award. Defendant, in turn, filed a motion to modify/correct the arbitration award to conform with the insurance policy, which provided uninsured-motorist coverage up to a limit of $100,000. The superior court granted Defendant’s motion and entered an order for Plaintiff in the amount of $100,000. The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court, holding that the trial justice erred when he (1) reviewed the arbitrator’s award under a de novo review and supplemented the record with the admission of the insurance policy and the testimony of the arbitrator; and (2) modified the arbitration award because there were no grounds to do so under Rhode Island’s Arbitration Act. Remanded with instructions to issue an order confirming the arbitration award. View "Lemerise v. Commerce Ins. Co." on Justia Law