Category: Insurance

Legislature Responds to Louisiana Supreme Court Decision and Sets New Public Policy Regarding Insurance Coverage for Permissive Use of Non-Owned Vehicles

Imagine you are visiting family during the holidays. As a favor, you take a family member’s vehicle to the gas station for a fill-up. While in transit, you get into an accident where you are at fault. Does your insurance policy provide coverage for the accident?

According to La. R.S. 22:1296.1, a new statute that went into effect on August 1, 2022, the answer to this question is “yes,” your insurance may afford coverage under these facts.

La. R.S. 22:1296.1 now requires insurance policies issued in Louisiana to provide coverage when the driver insured under the policy operates a non-owned vehicle with the express or implied permission of the vehicle’s owner. The statue was enacted to declare a new public policy regarding this issue and was passed in response to the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision in Landry v. Progressive Security Insurance Company, 2021-00621 (La. 1/28/22), reh’g denied, 2021-00621 (La. 3/25/22); 338 So.3d 1162.

The Landry case involved a motor vehicle accident that occurred as the defendant-driver, as a favor to the vehicle’s owner, drove the vehicle to a tire shop to repair a tire. The plaintiffs brought an action against the defendant-driver, the driver’s insurer, and the insurer of the vehicle that he drove at the time of the collision.

The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld a provision in the driver’s policy that stated coverage under such circumstances was only available when the driver’s own vehicle was out of service. Because the driver’s vehicle was not out of service, no coverage was found under the driver’s policy. In so holding, the Landry court found that public policy did not  require automobile insurance liability coverage for a driver’s negligent operation of a non-owned vehicle.

The Louisiana legislature enacted La. R.S. 22:1296.1 in response to the Landry decision. The statute provides that an insurer writing automobile liability, uninsured, underinsured, or medical payments coverage shall not exclude the benefits of such coverage under its policy to an insured operating a non-owned vehicle if all of the following requirements are satisfied:

  • The coverage is in full force and effect.
  • The insured is operating a vehicle owned by another with the express or implied permission of the vehicle’s owner.
  • The non-owned vehicle that is being operated by the insured is not provided, furnished, or available to the insured on a regular basis.

The statute also provides this coverage is secondary to the vehicle owner’s insurance policy. Furthermore, if the coverage provided under the statute is included within the coverage provided pursuant to La. R.S. 22:1296, which addresses coverage for temporary, substitute, and rental vehicles, the provisions of La. R.S. 22:1296 determine which coverage is primary. (For additional information regarding La. R.S. 22:1296 click here.) [Sophia, please include link to blog from 5/25/22].

Let’s return to real life scenarios like those we addressed above. Perhaps you are blocked in at a party, so a friend tosses you the keys to move their car, or, like the situation in Landry, maybe you are trying to do a good deed by driving your parents’ car to a gas station for a fill-up when an accident occurs. While it remains to be seen how courts will interpret this statute in these circumstances, under the new legislation, these actions may now implicate coverage under your insurance policy.

Case Reference: Landry v. Progressive Security Insurance Company, 2021-00621 (La. 1/28/22), reh’g denied, 2021-00621 (La. 3/25/22); 338 So.3d 1162.

When Buying a House with a Flooding History, Let the Buyer Beware

In Dunlap v. Empire Trading Group, LLC, the buyers of a home sued the seller and the seller’s real estate agent for fraud after the home flooded three times in the first year after they bought the home. The seller was a home-flipper who disclosed two prior flooding incidents, both of which occurred during the ten months the seller owned the home.

However, the plaintiffs later discovered the home had a substantial flooding history when they requested a flood insurance quote from the National Flood Insurance Program. The quote included a report that identified eighteen incidents of flooding and flood insurance claims at the property over the ten years before the plaintiffs purchased their home.

The plaintiffs argued the seller’s agent committed fraud because she concealed her knowledge of previous flood claims. The seller’s agent moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs could not prove that she knew about any of the prior undisclosed flooding incidents. The plaintiffs had no direct evidence to dispute the agent’s defense.

Instead, they argued that circumstantial evidence was sufficient to defeat the motion. They claimed that because the seller had a flood policy on the home, it also would have received the same flood claim history the plaintiffs received in connection with the same federal program. However, the plaintiffs had no evidence to show the seller, or anyone affiliated with the agent’s firm, actually received the flood claim history as they alleged.

Based upon these facts, the court agreed that without evidence that the seller’s agent actually received the flood claim history or otherwise had knowledge of it, the plaintiffs could not carry their burden of proving misrepresentation by the agent.

Case Reference: Dunlap v. Empire Trading Group, LLC, 2021-0180 (La. App. 1 Cir. 10/18/21), 331 So. 3d 932.

Louisiana Supreme Court Uses Reason to Decide Case Involving Tragic Facts

Sometimes in law, the facts of a case may threaten to eclipse the legal issue. However, Louisiana law instructs the fact finder to see through the facts, and their sometimes tragic nature, and apply the law as written. As Aristotle once wisely said, “The Law is reason free from passion.”

In Kazan, et. al. v. Red Lion Hotels Corporation, et. al., 2021-CC-01820 (La. 6/29/22), the Louisiana Supreme Court recently ruled on a case with tragic facts, and its ruling provides an example of Aristotle’s description of law in action. In Kazan, a female patron was in the parking lot of a motel when a male patron approached her and used Kazan’s vehicle to abduct her from the premises. The car was later found submerged in a lake, and Kazan’s body was recovered from the water. The family filed a tort suit against several parties, including the motel’s owner and its insurer, the Great Lakes Insurance Company SE.

Great Lakes filed a motion for summary judgment and asked to be dismissed on grounds that coverage for the event was excluded from its policy. Specifically, the insurer argued that bodily injury caused by an “assault,” “battery,” or “physical altercation” was excluded under the policy’s terms. Great Lakes further argued that the kidnapping and ultimate death of the patron was excluded under the policy as bodily injury caused by an assault, battery, or physical altercation. The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed and reversed the decision of the trial and appellate courts.

Under Louisiana law, “[a]n insurance policy is a contract between the parties and should be construed using the general rules for the interpretation of contracts.” Id. at p. 3. “When the words of an insurance policy are clear and explicit and do not lead to absurd consequences, courts must enforce the language as written.”  Id. at p. 3. “Courts lack authority to alter the terms of an insurance policy under the guise of interpretation and should not create an ambiguity where none exists.”  Id. at p. 3.

With these basic rules in mind, the Court carefully reviewed the wording of the exclusion in the Great Lakes policy which stated as follows: “This insurance does not apply to ‘bodily injury,’ ‘property damage,’ or ‘personal advertising injury’ arising out of an ‘assault,’ ‘battery,’ or ‘physical altercation.’” “Physical altercation” was defined in the policy as “a dispute between individual [sic] in which one or more persons sustain bodily injury arising out of the dispute.” Citing Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the Court defined the term “dispute” as  “verbal controversy” or “quarrel.”

Based upon the evidence in the case, the Court found the female patron was involved in a “dispute” with her male attacker, and ultimately sustained bodily injury as a result of the dispute. Therefore, the patron was injured in a physical altercation, as defined under the specific terms of the Policy, and coverage for the event was excluded under the policy’s terms.

The Court noted as follows: “The facts of this case are undoubtedly tragic. Nonetheless, absent a conflict with statutory provisions or public policy, insurers are entitled to limit their liability by imposing reasonable conditions upon the policy obligations they contractually assume. That is what Great Lakes did in the insurance policy at issue here.” Despite the tragic facts presented in the case, in so holding, it appears the court agreed with Aristotle’s belief that the Law is Reason Free from Passion.

UM Waiver Completed by Insured’s Assistant Found Invalid

Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (“UM coverage”) is included in all automobile liability policies by Louisiana law unless the insured “rejects [UM] coverage, selects lower limits, or selects economic only coverage.”  What constitutes an adequate rejection of UM coverage has been the crux of countless lawsuits across the state. Recently, in Havard v. Jeanlouis, et al, 2021-C-00810 (La. 6/29/22), the Louisiana Supreme Court examined the validity of a corporate representative’s signature in the context of execution of a UM waiver form. Louisiana courts have found that without a valid signature, UM coverage generally may not be waived.  

The Havard court recognized that a corporation cannot “sign” its own name, and that an authorized representative must act on its behalf. Under the facts of this case, an administrative assistant attempted to execute a UM waiver form at the corporate representative’s direction with a stamp of the representative’s signature. The plaintiff argued that the use of the stamp did not meet the requirements for proper execution of the UM waiver form at issue. 

Considering these facts, the court noted that Louisiana law of mandate provides that “when the law prescribes a certain form for an act, a mandate authorizing the act must be in that form.” The court continued: “Accordingly, where one individual signs a UM form on behalf of another individual and authority is not conferred by law, our Civil Code requires this authority be in writing.”

While the corporate representative in Havard verbally instructed his administrative assistant to complete the waiver with his signature stamp, no written mandate existed between the representative and the assistant to confirm this authority. Absent the written mandate, the court disregarded the express intention of the corporate representative and held the form invalid.

The court recognized the impracticality of its holding. However, it also commented “Concerns over the practical impact within the insurance industry in scrutinizing stamped signed UM forms are unavailing. Inconvenience is not absurdity. The insurer has the authority, opportunity, and responsibility to assure the UM form is completed properly. … Practical considerations regarding increased due diligence requirements are matters of policy best directed to the legislature.”

Cases involving UM waiver forms are fact-sensitive. Havard involved unique facts where the company’s authorized agent did not sign the UM waiver form personally. While Havard may be limited to its facts, it reminds that proper execution of a UM waiver form is necessary for UM coverage to be properly waived.

Louisiana Supreme Court Provides Updated Guidance on Execution of UM Waiver Forms

Insurance Coverage for “Temporary Substitute Autos” in Louisiana

Louisiana insurance law recognizes a practical problem faced by many: the need to obtain alternative transportation when the car won’t start. Under La. R.S. 22:1296, any insurance on your personal vehicle must also extend to vehicles that are used as “temporary substitute autos.”

The statute provides that a car’s status as a “temporary substitute auto” depends on how the term is defined in the particular auto policy at issue. However, some rules typically apply to determine whether the auto is a “temporary substitute.” First, the use must be temporary, i.e. limited in duration. Second, the car must be a substitute for the auto insured under the policy and used for the same purpose. Third, policies typically limit coverage to substitute vehicles that the driver does not own.

Some policies also limit coverage by requiring that the substitution be needed for a purpose identified in the policy, such as the breakdown, repair, or destruction of the covered auto.

While the statute generally defers to the definition of “temporary substitute auto” provided in the policy, sometimes courts will overrule the insurer’s definition. For instance, in State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Safeway Insurance Company, 50-098 (La. App. 2 Cir. 9/30/15), 180 So.3d 450, the relevant policy defined a “temporary substitute auto” as a substitute for the owned auto when the owned auto was “being serviced or repaired by a person engaged in the business of selling, repairing, or servicing motor vehicles.” The case involved a motor vehicle accident that occurred while the policy holder operated a borrowed vehicle but before she brought her usual vehicle to a mechanic.

Citing the terms of the policy, the insurer denied coverage on grounds that the policy required the “temporary substitute auto” not only take the place of the driver’s usual vehicle, but also that the driver take the car to a mechanic before coverage would extend to the substitute vehicle. However, the court found this requirement to be against the public policies behind La. R.S. 22:1296 and found coverage under the policy extended to the borrowed vehicle.

To Be or Not To Be Specific—Fact Pleading in Louisiana

Louisiana is a fact-pleading state. Accordingly, Louisiana law requires that a petition contain “a short, clear and concise statement of all causes of action and material facts arising out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of the litigation.”  See La. C.C.P. art. 891. Generally, the pleader must state what act or omission he will establish at trial. Legal conclusions disguised as factual allegations do not meet the pleading standards required by Louisiana law.

This concept recently was examined in Henderson v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 2021-0654 (La. App. 4 Cir. 12/17/21), 2021 WL 7162224, where the court considered bad faith allegations the plaintiff tried to assert against an insurer in his petition for damages. At the time of the underlying accident, the plaintiff was a passenger in a Lyft vehicle that was struck by an unknown driver. Steadfast Insurance Company was the Lyft driver’s insurer, and the plaintiff named Steadfast as a defendant to recover damages under its policy.

The plaintiff later amended his petition to seek uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits under the Steadfast policy. He also sought penalties from Steadfast for alleged bad faith and dealing in its insurance practices. In turn, Steadfast filed an exception of no cause of action, arguing that plaintiff’s petition only contained legal conclusions and not specific facts, which were insufficient to support a cause of action. The trial court overruled the exception.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the decision. Plaintiff’s amended petition alleged that Steadfast “refused to deal with him in good faith, including but not limited to, refusing to issue unconditional (McDill) tenders and taking actions in violation of La. R.S. 22:1892 and La. R.S. 22:1973.” The plaintiff also generally alleged the insurer acted “arbitrarily, capriciously and without probable cause” in its failure to pay money under its policy.

The Court noted that the plaintiff’s allegations were legal conclusions asserted as facts, which could not be considered as well-pleaded factual allegations for purposes of a no cause of action. Importantly, the court reiterated that a court may not consider legal conclusions “clothed as facts,” citing Hooks v. Treasurer, 06-0541, p. 10 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/4/07), 961 So.2d 425, 431-32.  Accordingly, the plaintiff’s allegations, absent additional information, were insufficient to state a cause of action. The plaintiff failed to state specific actions or omissions that would be established at trial. Hence, he failed to state a cause of action.

Renewed or Was it New? Dispute over UM Coverage in Auto Policy

Louisiana law requires UM coverage in automobile liability insurance policies in the same amount as the policy’s bodily injury liability coverage. UM coverage will be included in the policy unless the insured rejects UM coverage, selects lower limits, or selects economic-only coverage. This rejection, selection of lower limits, or selection of economic-only coverage must be made on a form prescribed by the commissioner of insurance and must be signed by the insured or its legal representative. See La. R.S. 22:1295. If a rejection form is not completed, UM coverage will be read into the policy. However, a valid UM waiver form executed for a policy of insurance remains in effect when that policy is renewed with a few exceptions. Generally, execution of a new waiver form is not required unless a new policy is issued or the liability limits increased. These basic principles were considered in the recent First Circuit decision in Johnson, et al. v.  Bass, Geico General Ins. Co., and GoAuto Management Services, LLC, 2021 CA 0139 (La. App. 1 Cir. 12/22/21).

In Johnson, the plaintiff obtained a policy of insurance from GoAuto on July 17, 2015 and validly rejected UM coverage on the commissioner’s UM rejection form. The plaintiff renewed the policy multiple times and also completed an “Application for Personal Automobile Insurance” on February 23, 2018 to add her husband and an additional vehicle to the policy. 

The Johnson plaintiff was in a motor vehicle accident on November 26, 2019 and claimed UM benefits under the policy. She argued that the insurance application she completed in February 2018 to add a new driver and a new vehicle to the policy created a new policy of insurance that required completion of a new UM waiver form. Because a new UM waiver form was not executed in February 2018, the plaintiff argued that UM coverage should be read into the policy. Thus, the question posed to the court was whether the 2018  policy became new or was simply a renewal. The trial court found that the policy was a renewal and dismissed the UM claim.

The First Circuit affirmed and rejected the plaintiff’s argument holding, “the language of La. R.S. 22:1295 is clear and unambiguous; only changes in the ‘limits of liability’ to an existing policy will create a new policy that requires the completion of a new UM selection form.” Despite multiple renewals, the liability limits of the policy did not change from the date it was issued through the date of the accident. Importantly, the limits also did not change when the new driver and vehicle were added to the policy in February 2018. Thus, no new policy was created. The original rejection of UM coverage remained in effect, and the plaintiff’s claims against her alleged UM insurer were dismissed.

What to do if your Home or Business is Damaged by Flood or Storm

Unfortunately, recent flooding and storm events have again affected our area in Louisiana.  Many people experienced flooding and storm damage to their homes and businesses.  If you experienced flood or storm damage, please consider following these steps to ensure your damage claim is properly documented and submitted:

  • DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT – Once you are able, make sure to document the damages to your home and contents.  Whether for a homeowners or flood insurance policy or to obtain government assistance, take plenty of photos and video of the damage.  Make a list of the items that were damaged or destroyed.  One way to organize this list is to group items from each room together, approximate its age, where it was purchased, and its value when purchased.  It will be more difficult to document your claim once the cleanup or rebuilding begins.
  • OBTAIN MULTIPLE ESTIMATES -To the extent you are able, obtain multiple estimates for the work needed on your home.  Pay for the estimate if necessary.  If you have three estimates and the amounts are close, they are much more credible.  Also, try and get as much detail as possible in each estimate, including specific materials to be used, dimensions, and finishes.
  • NOTIFY YOUR INSURER – Whether a homeowners or flood policy claim, or other insurance claim related to your business, promptly notify your insurer of your damage.  Your insurer will send someone to inspect the damage and start your claim.  Provide as much information as possible to make their job as easy as possible.  That will likely quicken the pace of your claim.
  • FLOOD CLAIMS – If you have flood insurance, it is likely provided by the federal government through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  There are specific rules for submitting your claim through the NFIP.  YOU MUST SUBMIT FEMA FORM 086-0-11 (NOTICE OF LOSS) WITHIN 120 DAYS OF YOUR DAMAGE.  You can find this form here.

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.

La. Supreme Court Rules 10-year Contract Prescription Applies to 1st Party Claims Against Insurer

In a first-party action obtained by assignment for excess liability against an insurer, the Louisiana Supreme Court in Smith v. Citadel Insurance,19-00052 (La. 10/22/19) ruled that the claim against the carrier is subject to the 10-year contract prescription period under La. law, stating:

“For the above reasons, we hold an insurer’s duty of good faith owed to its insured under La. R.S. 22:1973 does not exist separate and apart from an insurer’s contractual obligations. The duty of good faith is codified in La. R.S. 22:1973, but this duty is an outgrowth of the contractual and fiduciary relationship between the insured and the insurer, and the duty of good faith and fair dealing emanates from the contract between the parties. Thus, first-party bad faith claims against an insurer are governed by the ten-year prescriptive period set forth in La. C.C. art. 3499. Consequently, Ms. Smith’s first-party bad faith claim against GoAuto, brought pursuant to an assignment of rights from the insured, was subject to a 10-year prescriptive period and is not prescribed.”

The concurring justice noted that it was not necessary to engage in the protracted discussion concerning the duties of insurers relative to first-party claims. Nevertheless, the court offered an in-depth discussion of these duties.

An Insurer’s Duty: To Defend or Not To Defend

Primary insurance policies include the duty to defend an insured in connection with a covered loss. The insurer is sometimes presented with the question of whether a defense is owed when many of the allegations are not apparently covered by a particular policy. In this circumstance, how does an insurer determine its obligation? The law provides the answer: the “eight corners” rule—do the four corners of the policy unambiguously exclude coverage in all respects when viewed within the context of the four corners of the petition? If the answer is “no,” the duty to defend arises. Mossy Motors, Inc. v. Cameras America, 2004-0726 (La. App. 4 Cir. 3/2/05), 898 So.2d 602, 606.

Courts generally hold that the duty to defend the case extends to ALL claims, not just the covered claims. This duty can often prove quite costly, especially when non-covered claims are high-value or involve extensive factual development or testimony to defend. In some instances, the answer under the eight corners analysis is not so clear. The safe choice for the insurer is to provide a defense and hire separate counsel to handle the coverage side of the case.

In this scenario, where an insurer has serious coverage defenses, but agrees to provide the defense, when does the duty to defend terminate? The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal recently ruled on this issue again in Ponchartrain Natural Gas System, K/D/S Promix, L.L.C. and Acadian Gas Pipeline System v. Texas Brine Company, L.L.C., No. 2018 CA 0254 (La. App. 12/12/19), stating:

            “Our previous decisions in the related sinkhole appeals clearly set out the well-established rule of law that an insurer’ s duty to defend terminates once the undisputed facts establish, or a judicial determination is made, that the claims asserted are not covered under the policy. See Florida Gas, 272 So. 3d at 551; Pontchartrain, 264 So.3d at 553- 54; Crosstex, 240 So.3d at 1032.”

So, the duty to defend ends when undisputed facts establish OR a judicial determination is made that the asserted claims are not covered. Of course, who is to say that the facts are “undisputed” without a judicial determination that confirms this conclusion.  An insurer could unilaterally determine that facts are undisputed and terminate the defense before a judicial determination, but if the court does not agree, the insurer may have issues. Accordingly, the safe course is to await a judicial determination before an insurer terminates the defense.

It is important to distinguish the duty of an excess carrier because such policies generally do not provide an obligation to defend. Instead, the excess carrier may exercise its “right to defend.”