Many insurance policies contain a Concealment or Fraud provision that provides no coverage where the insured concealed or misrepresented any material fact or circumstance, engaged in fraudulent conduct, or made false statements related to the insurance.
But will a court enforce the Concealment or Fraud provision to deny an insured recovery on an otherwise covered peril? According to a recent decision out of the Eastern District of Louisiana, the answer is YES.
In Fahimipour v. United Property & Casualty Insurance Company, the plaintiffs sought contractual and extra-contractual damages from their insurance carrier for damages to their residential property allegedly sustained during Hurricane Zeta. After a bench trial, Judge Morgan concluded Plaintiffs’ application for insurance included a false statement made with knowledge of its falsity and voided the insurance policy from inception, in its entirety.
Citing Talbert v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Ins. Co., the Fahimipour court noted that “Under Louisiana law, an insurance policy is voided entirely and from its inception when the insured makes a material misrepresentation in the application for insurance with the intent to deceive the insurer.” The insurer must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the following elements in order to succeed on such a claim:
(1) the insured made a false statement;
(2) the false statement was material; and
(3) the false statement was made with intent to deceive.
With regard to the first factor, the Court found the insureds obtained and read an inspection report in connection with their purchase of the property. They “were concerned enough about the findings of the inspectors to contact their real estate agent” about the issues. The insureds represented in their insurance application that the property was well maintained, and free of damage, debris, and liability hazards, despite the extensive contradictory findings in the inspection report.
Regarding the second element, the carrier’s in-house expert testified that the insurer would not have bound coverage if the application contained the information from the inspection report. Therefore, the court found the insured’s false statements were material.
The third element – intent to deceive – “must be determined from the surrounding circumstances indicating the insured’s knowledge of the falsity of the representations made in the application and his recognition of the materiality of his representations, or from circumstances which create a reasonable assumption that the insured recognized the materiality.”
In finding the insurer established the third element, the Court noted the insureds were “sophisticated users of insurance.” Evidence showed the insureds previously purchased houses for renovation and resale, owned multiple properties, submitted insurance applications before, and also submitted claims for coverage on at least three prior occasions.
Ultimately, the Court denied plaintiffs any recovery for alleged hurricane damages because of the misrepresentations they made in their application for insurance coverage.
Prior to Fahimipour,Courts had found that post-loss misrepresentations may also void a policy. In Roach v. Allstate Indem. Co., 476 Fed. App’x 778, 779 (5th Cir. 2012), the plaintiff’s house was damaged in a fire. The Fifth Circuit upheld a summary judgment that voided the plaintiff’s policy after he submitted a falsified claim that included contents not located on inspection following a fire at the residence.
The policy at issue in Roach included a similar Concealment or Fraud provision that stated the policy would provide no coverage if the insured misrepresented any material fact before or after a loss. In granting summary judgment, the district court applied the same three factors used in the Fahimipour case to find the plaintiff made material misrepresentations in his personal property claim when he claimed items not located on inspection.
While the policy in Fahimipour was voided in part because the insureds were “sophisticated users of insurance,” it remains to be seen whether a Louisiana court will void coverage based on a similar provision brought by a less sophisticated insured under a different set of facts.
However, the Fahimipour and Roach decisions show that a court can void a policy, from its inception, because of an insured’s misrepresentations, whether they occur in connection with the application for the policy or after a loss. These rulings also suggest that Louisiana law recognizes an insured also has a reciprocal duty of good faith in its relationship with its insurer.
Case References: Behnaz Fahimipour, et al. v. United Property & Casualty Insurance Company, 2022 WL 16833693 (E.D. La. Nov. 9, 2022); Roach v. Allstate Indem. Co., 476 Fed. App’x 778, 779 (5th Cir. 2012); Talbert v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Ins. Co., 971 So.2d 1206 (La. App. 4 Cir. 2007).