Author: Sydnee D. Menou

Insurance: “ACV,” Depreciation, or Both

In Louisiana, we are all too familiar with natural disasters. Every “hurricane season,” we hope the storm causes only minor inconvenience; but history teaches us to prepare for more. When these storms come, home and business owners inevitably make post-disaster insurance claims to repair the damage. While the specific amount owed for property damage is determined by the terms of the policy, the amount received may be affected by when (and if) the damage is repaired.  

An insurer will work with you to identify the “actual cash value” or “ACV” of the damaged property when handling your claim. “ACV” is defined as the cost to repair/replace the damage, less depreciation. Jouve v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., 2010-1522 (La.App. 4 Cir. 8/17/11), 74 So.3d 220. Many policies provide that an insurer is not obligated to provide you with more than the “ACV” of the damage, unless and until you actually make repairs. Later, you can recover the depreciation amount once you submit proof that the repairs are complete. Courts have enforced such provisions in many cases, regardless of the type of loss.

So, what happens if you never make the repairs? Simply, the insurance company may never owe the depreciation. In Hackman v. EMC Ins. Co., 07-552 (La.App. 5 Cir. 3/25/08), 984 So.2d 139, the plaintiff’s property was damaged by a fire. The insurer paid the ACV of the loss but withheld depreciation pending repairs. The plaintiff never made the repairs and ultimately sold the property. The Court ruled the plaintiff was not entitled to recover the difference.

Similarly, in Jouve v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., supra, the plaintiffs’ home was damaged by wind during Hurricane Katrina. Their insurer paid the ACV of the loss. Thereafter, the plaintiffs sold the home “as is” and sought recovery for the depreciation. The court reviewed the policy and found the plaintiffs’ sale of the home without repairs limited their recovery to ACV.

As with any insurance claim, you should always read your policy before losses occur to ensure you understand its terms and conditions. Maybe add this as an unusual step to your hurricane checklist. As these cases show, your ultimate recovery can be affected by what you do, or do not do, following the loss.

No Pay, No Play: What is it and why does it matter?

Louisiana’s automobile insurance premiums are some of the highest in the United States. With so many other demands on driver’s wallets, it may seem tempting to simply not purchase a liability automobile policy, even if it is required by Louisiana law. Louisiana’s “No Pay, No Play” statute, LA-R.S. 32:866, is intended to fight that temptation. See Progressive Sec. Ins. Co. v. Foster, 1997-2985 (La. 4/23/98), 711 So.2d 675. Below are some key considerations for drivers and insurers on either side of a potential “No Pay, No Play” dispute.

For Drivers

The “No Pay, No Play” statute means just what it seems—if you do not pay for your own liability insurance, you cannot recover under someone else’s liability insurance even if the accident is not your fault … at least to a point.

Specifically, the “No Pay, No Play” statute precludes someone who does not have liability insurance from recovering from another driver’s policy (1) the first $15,000 of bodily injury damages and (2) the first $25,000 of property damage. Of course, if damages do not exceed these amounts, it means the uninsured driver cannot recover his or her damage at all.

Of course, some exceptions exist. For example, the statute does not apply (meaning, it does reduce the plaintiff driver’s recovery) if the other driver is cited for operating his or her vehicle while intoxicated and is convicted or pleads nolo contendere; if the other driver intentionally causes the accident; if the other driver flees the scene; or if the other driver is in furtherance of the commission of a felony. However, the off-chance that a driver falls into an exception should not outweigh the obligation to comply with Louisiana law.

For Insurers

Generally, liability insurers should assert the “No Pay, No Play” affirmative defense when it appears a plaintiff driver lacks liability insurance. However, insurers should also keep in mind that this defense also has limitations.

For instance, the “No Pay, No Play” statute is not necessarily a total bar to a plaintiff’s recovery. If damages exceed $15,000 for bodily injury and/or $25,000 for property damage, payment may still be owed for these excess damages.

Secondly, the party asserting the “No Pay, No Play” affirmative defense—usually a defendant insurer—bears the burden of establishing that the plaintiff driver lacked insurance coverage on the vehicle he or she was operating at the time of the incident.

This burden can sometimes present difficult issues. For instance, in Johnson v. Henderson, 2004-1723 (La.App. 4 Cir. 3/16/05), 899 So.2d 626, the plaintiff was operating a vehicle he did not own. The defendant failed to yield and struck the plaintiff’s car.  The defendant and his insurer asserted the affirmative defense under “No Pay, No Play.”

The facts of the case suggest the vehicle that the plaintiff was operating was not insured, but plaintiff paid his “premiums” to the owners of the vehicle, had an ostensibly valid insurance card, and believed he was insured. The court found that the defendants failed to carry their burden of establishing a lack of coverage. As a result, the insurer owed the plaintiff the full amount of his damages—a total of $5,855.00 that would otherwise have been precluded under the statute.  

The “No Pay, No Play” issue is easily avoided: Louisiana drivers should get the insurance required by the statute. Failure to do so runs the risk of discounting (and potentially barring) recovery for accidents that are not the driver’s fault.

THE “ATTORNEY CLIENT” PRIVILEGE”: How, When (and Why) Communications between You and Your Attorney are Protected – Part 2

Part 1 of this two-part series explored the basic elements of the attorney-client privilege. Part 2 will discuss some of the restrictions to the privilege.

The privilege applies only to legal matters.

While legal advice is protected, advice that is considered “business advice” may not. Unfortunately, the line between legal and business advice is not always clear. Legal advice requires that the attorney interpret law and apply it to specific facts to do one (or both) of two things: tell the client what to do in the future or tell the client what was done right (or wrong) in the past. Business advice involves discussions about the operations of a client which are independent from legal considerations.

If the communication involves both legal advice and business advice, the general rule is that the legal advice must predominate over the business advice. See, Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Hill, 2013 WL 3293496 (E.D. La. June 28, 2013), vacated and remanded on other grounds by Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Hill (5th Cir. May 6, 2014).

The crime-fraud exception.

The privilege is also subject to the “crime fraud” exception. Communications between an attorney and client regarding either: 1) a plan or intent to commit a crime or fraud; or 2) while the crime or fraud is being committed, are not protected by the attorney-client privilege. Remember, you obtain the services of an attorney to obtain legal advice, not illegal advice. As explained by the court in State v. Menard, 02-1182 (La. App. 3 Cir. 5/7/03), 844 So. 2d 1117, the reasons for the privilege cease to operate when the legal advice refers to future wrongdoing.

Other exceptions.

The privilege also has other limitations, including the fact that it may be waived, intentionally or unintentionally, by the client. As discussed in Part 1 of this blog, the decision to include third-parties in conversations and communications (including emails) between the client and the attorney may waive the privilege. If a client sues an attorney after the relationship has terminated, the privilege is likewise waived, and the attorney can discuss privileged communications to defend himself against that suit. Similarly, if an attorney acted as a notary or witness to a document, the attorney may discuss whether a document is authentic or whether the signors were legally competent to sign. Interestingly, the privilege also does not apply to communications with a deceased client if the communications are relevant to an inheritance dispute.

The attorney client privilege offers broad protection; however, it is important to remember that this protection is not without its limits.

THE “ATTORNEY-CLIENT” PRIVILEGE: How, When (and Why) the Communications between You and Your Attorney are Protected – Part 1

This blog is one of a two-part series regarding perhaps the most important aspect of the attorney-client relationship — the attorney-client privilege. So, what is it and why is the privilege so important? In short, the attorney-client privilege is a legal doctrine that protects communications between a client and his or her attorney. Unlike most other relationships, the privilege stays in place even after the relationship is terminated. The purpose of the privilege is to allow clients to have open and honest communications with their attorney. LSA-L.C.E. art. 506. However, not all communications between a client and attorney are privileged and certain requirements must be met for the privilege to attach.

-Existence of Attorney-Client Relationship. An attorney-client relationship must be in place. Louisiana law does not require that the attorney be formally retained or payment made for the privilege to attach. The privilege may apply even when the client merely discusses a legal matter with an attorney when the client reasonably believes the attorney is acting as his or her attorney.

-Confidential Communications. While the communication can take many forms (oral, written, digital, etc.) it is protected only if it was intended to be confidential, which generally means that the communication was not intended to be disclosed to others not involved in the attorney-client relationship or the legal representation.  For example, if a client meets with his attorney and brings a friend along, then the meeting may not be protected by the privilege. Because the privilege is for the protection of the client, the client may choose to intentionally waive the privilege, or may do so inadvertently through their actions.

-Legal Services. The communication must be related to obtaining or facilitating the legal services offered by the attorney. The privilege has been held to apply to the employees of the attorney and sometimes experts retained to assist in the case.

When applicable, the attorney-client privilege applies not only to what was said, but also to your attorney’s observations of your mental, emotional, and physical state at the time you communicate. The privilege does not generally apply to information gathered by the attorney from other sources; however, another doctrine, the “work product” doctrine, may nevertheless protect such information.

It is important that clients understand that the privilege does not apply merely because the client chooses to involve the attorney in the communication. Generally, the privilege only applies when the communication was intended as confidential and to further the legal services offered by the attorney. In this way, the client may not be allowed to utilize the privilege where they include the attorney in a communication with a third-party that is not otherwise protected.

While the attorney-client privilege safeguards the attorney-client relationship, ensures that clients can tell their attorney the things they need to know about a case, and assists the attorney to provide the best legal help possible, it is also subject to restrictions. These restrictions are explored in Part 2 of this series.