Past Mistakes: Waiver of Coverage Defenses

What does it mean to “waive” something? To an insurer in Louisiana, the meaning is clear; a waiver can mean thousands or even millions of dollars in insurance coverage that may otherwise be excluded. Recently, the Louisiana Supreme Court in Forvendel v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, 2017-C-2074 (June 27, 2018) clarified when an insurer will be found to have waived coverage defenses.

Waiver is generally understood as the “intentional relinquishment of a known right, power, or privilege.” Waiver occurs when there is: 1) a right; 2) that is known; and, 3) an actual intention to forego the right or conduct so inconsistent with an intent to enforce the right so as to induce a reasonable belief that it has been relinquished. The waiver rule is generally applied to an insurer who defends itself and its insured without having obtained a nonwaiver agreement to preserve its coverage defense. The joint defense of the insured and the insurer, without asserting a known defense, is deemed to be conduct inconsistent with the enforcement of the coverage defense and therefore a waiver.

In Forvendel, the Louisiana Supreme Court considered whether an insurer’s waiver of a coverage defense in a prior claim served to waive the coverage defense in a subsequent claim involving the same insured and similar circumstances. The key issue in the case was whether the insurer’s conduct in allowing the same insured to “stack” two UM coverages contrary to Louisiana’s “anti-stacking” law (La. R.S. 22:1295 (1)(c)) when adjusting an accident claim in 2007 served as a waiver of the right to assert the anti-stacking law when adjusting a 2013 accident claim.

Luckily for insurers, who could be forever bound by past mistakes in their handling of claims, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the two lower courts and found the right was not waived. In so ruling, the Court distinguished prior case law in which a coverage defense was found to have been waived because the insurer’s conduct took place while handing the same claim, not a prior claim. The Louisiana Supreme Court also drew on a line of cases that allowed insurers to recover previously made payments under well-established principles of Louisiana law allowing for the recoupment of payments not due.

The Forvendel case provides a common-sense result by relieving insurers from unintended consequences from past omissions in the handling of an insured’s new claim.

 

Nancy B. Gilbert is a partner with Keogh Cox. She is a puzzle-solver by nature and uses these skills to provide clear and in-depth analysis of complex litigation issues. Nancy is a devoted grandmother, an avid camper and gardener, and enjoys renovating her 80-year-old home.