Tag: Insurance

The Louisiana Legislature Overhauls the “Direct Action” Statute

For decades, Louisiana law provided a claimant or injured person an uncommon opportunity (1) to directly name an insurer in a lawsuit, and (2) to make the jury aware of the presence of insurance. This was known nationally as the “Louisiana Direct Action Statute.” This statute, embodied in LSA—R.S. 22:1269, has long been a topic of debate.

The Louisiana Legislature recently amended the “direct action statute” in Act 275 and declared that the injured person “shall have no right of direct action against the insurer” unless at least one of the exceptions applies: the insured files for bankruptcy, the insured is insolvent, service cannot be made on the insured, a tort cause of action exists against a family member, uninsured motorist claims, the insured is deceased, or when the insurer issues a reservation of rights or coverage denial (but only for the purpose of establishing coverage). The Act further provides that the insurer shall not be included in the caption of the case. And, the existence of insurance is not to be disclosed unless the Louisiana Code of Evidence requires it. This new legislation is effective August 1, 2024.

But, the Act also provides for new provisions that allow for the joinder of an insurer after settlement or in connection with a final judgment. The Act further includes specific provisions enacted to provide notice to an insurer of an action and outlines the procedures and timelines for how insurers assert reservation of rights or a denial of coverage.

The revisions to LSA—R.S. 1269 represent a significant change in how lawsuits involving insurance companies will proceed.

Bad Faith Action Brought Against an Insurer Less than Ten Years after the Date of Loss Dismissed As Prescribed

The Louisiana Supreme Court recently ruled a plaintiff’s bad faith insurance claim was prescribed where the policy at issue required actions to be brought within two years after the date of loss.

In Phyllis Wilson v. Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the plaintiff asserted a bad faith claim against an insurer. The applicable policy of insurance provided “[n]o action can be brought unless the policy provisions have been complied with and the action is started within two years after the date of loss.” The plaintiff alleged that the insurer failed to timely tender payments for losses that occurred on August 27, 2020 and October 20, 2020. However, the plaintiff did not file her suit unit January 9, 2023.

Prior to the Wilson decision, courts frequently relied on the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision in Smith v. Citadel Ins. Co., which held that actions against insurers under Louisiana’s bad faith statutes are subject to a ten-year prescriptive period. In Smith, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether a bad faith action against an insurer was a delictual or tort action subject to a one-year prescriptive period, or a contractual action, which is subject to a ten-year prescriptive period under Louisiana law. The Smith court concluded that the duty of good faith owed by the insurer to the insured “emanates from the contract between the parties” such that the “insured’s cause of action is personal and subject to a ten-year prescriptive period.”

In Wilson, the Louisiana Supreme Court examined whether Smith required the Court to uphold a ten-year prescriptive period for bad faith actions even though the insurance policy at issue prohibited actions brought more than two years after the date of loss. The Wilson court ultimately concluded that an action against an insurer brought more than two years after the date of loss is prescribed where the applicable insurance policy set a term of two years for filing a claim against the insurer.

To reach this conclusion, the Wilson court cited Taranto v. Louisiana citizens Prop. Ins. Corp., which held “in the absence a statutory prohibition, a clause in an insurance policy fixing a reasonable time to institute suit is valid.” The Wilson court then turned to the applicable statute and noted that La. R.S. 22:868(B) “expressly provides that no policy ‘shall contain any condition, stipulation, or agreement limiting right of action against the insurer to a period of less than twenty-four months next after the inception of the loss when the claim is a first-party claim…’” The Wilson court noted the two-year limitation in the applicable policy was consistent with La. R.S. 22:868(B).

The court’s ruling supports the argument that policy provisions requiring actions to be filed within two years of the date of loss are enforceable. However, the Court did not disturb its holding in Smith, noting the Smith case was factually distinguishable because it did not involve a policy that contained a contractual limitation on the insured’s institution of suits. 

References:

Phyllis Wilson v. Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, No. 2023-CC-01320 (La. 1/10/2024) (per curiam), 2024 WL 108714.

Smith v. Citadel Ins. Co., 2019-00052 (La. 10/22/19), 285 So.3d 1062.

Taranto v. Louisiana citizens Prop. Ins. Corp., 2010-0105 (La. 3/15/11), 62 So.3d 721, 728.

Louisiana Supreme Court Finds Business Interruption Coverage Does Not Apply to Losses Attributable to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on the global economy. Louisiana was not spared, and many businesses had to close as sales to their customers slowed or stopped altogether. Not surprisingly, the question arose regarding whether business interruption insurance would provide coverage to businesses in this situation. The Louisiana Supreme Court recently was asked this question in Cajun Conti, LLC v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London and found that the policy at issue did not provide such coverage.

The mayor of New Orleans issued a proclamation on March 16, 2020, that prohibited most public and private gatherings. This applied to restaurants, whose business initially was limited to takeout and delivery services. Before the pandemic, Oceana Grill, a restaurant located in the French Quarter, could serve up to 500 customers at one time. However, it had to limit its business to takeout and delivery services when the mayor’s proclamation was announced. Because of social distancing guidelines, it remained at 60% or less capacity throughout the pandemic.

Oceana maintained a commercial insurance policy with loss of business income coverage and filed suit to request a declaratory judgment that the “policy provides business income coverage from the contamination of the insured premises by COVID-19.” Oceana’s insurer argued that there was no coverage under the policy because COVID-19 did not cause “direct physical loss of or damage to property” under the policy’s terms.

The trial court denied Oceana’s request for declaratory relief at trial. The appellate court reversed and found the policy’s terms ambiguous because it held “direct physical loss” could mean loss of use of the property. Because the pandemic prevented the full use of the property due to capacity limitations, the appellate court found coverage was triggered.

The Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the appellate court’s decision, finding its focus on the use of the property to be misguided. The Court found that suspension of operations “caused by direct physical loss of or damage to property,” as defined by the policy, required “the insured’s property to sustain a physical, meaning tangible or corporeal, loss or damage.” The Court noted that the restaurant’s physical structure was not lost or damaged because of the pandemic. COVID-19 restrictions did not cause damage or loss that was physical in nature. Therefore, the policy did not provide coverage for loss of business income.

Whether a policy affords coverage depends on the terms and conditions of each policy and the facts of each case. However, in light of this decision, businesses with insurance policies that include provisions with language like that at issue in Cajun Conti should not anticipate coverage for loss of business income allegedly caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Case References:

Cajun Conti LLC v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, 2022-01349 (La. 3/17/23), 2023 WL 2549132.

Appliers Beware: Louisiana Federal Court Voids Insurance Policy, Denies First-Party Hurricane Claim

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).

Hurricane Ida: Louisiana Department of Insurance Implements Mediation Program

In the wake of Hurricane Ida, the Louisiana Department of Insurance (LDI) implemented a mediation program to assist policy holders with disputed insurance claims. Effective October 18, 2021, the program was implemented to assist in the prompt and reasonable settlement of disputed insurance claims.

The program is open to all authorized property and casualty insurers, as well as all surplus line insurers for personal lines residential insurance claims up to $50,000.00. Both the insurer or policyholder can submit a written request for mediation; the opposing party is free to accept or deny the invitation. If initially denied, the parties are free to later opt to participate.

If both parties agree to mediation, a mediator will be assigned and within 30 days a mediation will be scheduled at a local Mediation & Arbitration Professional Systems (MAPS) or Perry Dampf Dispute Solutions location in the Baton Rouge or New Orleans area. The initial mediation session allows for 90-minutes; however, parties are allowed to continue the mediation beyond the initial session at the agreement of the mediator.

The mediation program is free to all policyholders and a $600 fee is assessed to the insurer for the first 90-minute mediation session. If the parties and mediator agree to continue the mediation beyond the initial 90-minute session, additional fees will be assessed for the mediator’s services. The parties are to determine among themselves who will be responsible for the additional costs.  

The parties are required to provide all relevant documentation to the assigned mediator and a detailed explanation of the claim and any obstacles to resolution. The policyholder can represent themselves or through counsel. They are even encouraged to bring knowledgeable individuals such as adjusters, appraisers, or contractors.

If a resolution is reached, even just partial, both parties will reduce the agreement to writing and sign the agreement. The insurer will be required to furnish any required payment to the policyholder within ten (10) days of signing the agreement. If the parties only reach a partial agreement, they will be permitted to continue to use the mediation services and schedule future mediation dates.

At this time, the program is scheduled to continue through June 30, 2022.

Here Comes Hurricane Ida: What To Do If Your Home is Damaged by a Storm or Flood

Unfortunately, Louisianians have endured many natural disasters in the past several years. From the historic flooding in Baton Rouge in August 2016 to the devastation caused by Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020, Gulf Coast residents are very familiar with significant storms and flooding events. While the rebuilding process will take months or years to complete, this article is designed to provide some basic information on how to document and report your property damage claim and apply for and obtain disaster assistance.

  • DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT – Once you are able to do so, 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 of the damage.  Make a list of the items in your home that were damaged or destroyed.  One way to organize this list is to list each item from each room together, approximate its age, where it was purchased and its value when purchased.  As you rebuild, and materials and items are thrown out, it will be much more difficult to document your claim.
  • REPORT YOUR CLAIM – Report your damage to your homeowners or flood insurer as soon as possible.  Provide as much detail about the damage as you can. If you are unaware of your insurer, contact your insurance agent who can help you to report your claim.
  • OBTAIN MULTIPLE ESTIMATES – Although it is often difficult to do so after a natural disaster because of the volume of work, 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.
  • SAVE YOUR RECEIPTS – Whether for repairs you undertake to fix the damage to your home, to replace contents, or for living expenses after the storm, save your receipts.  These receipts will be used to document your losses and verify the amount of your claim to your insurer. 
  • FOLLOW UP WITH YOUR INSURER – Provide whatever is requested by your insurer as they adjust your claim.  Communicate with your insurer on a regular basis. Although it may seem tedious, communication with your insurer during the claim is important.
  • APPLY FOR ASSISTANCE – Especially if your property is not insured, make sure to immediately apply for government assistance.  You can apply for federal assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov.  Oftentimes, the state government will also administer federal or state disaster assistance funds. 

Keeping Testimony of Future Medical Expenses “Out of the Gate”

In a recent case involving Keogh Cox attorneys, the Eastern District of Louisiana in Michael Brander, Jr. v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co., Civ. A. No. 18-982 (Feb. 14, 2019), 2019 WL 636423 barred testimony of substantial projected medical expenses because it was not based on a reliable methodology. This ruling stands to impact many other cases where plaintiffs seek to use far-reaching projections of a life-long need for radiofrequency ablations (“RFAs”) or other pain-management modalities to “board” six and even seven-figure numbers for future medical expenses.  

In Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), the United States Supreme Court recognized the trial judge as the “gatekeeper” of expert opinion testimony and held that only reliable and relevant expert opinions may be admitted.  The reliability requirement serves to keep expert opinions “outside the gate” when they constitute unsupported speculation or mere subjective belief; only scientifically valid expert opinions are allowed inside.  To ascertain whether an expert opinion is scientifically valid, Daubert instructs the trial court to consider:

            ∙           whether the expert’s theory can or has been tested;

            ∙           whether it has been subject to peer review and publication;

            ∙           the known or potential rate of error when applying the theory;

            ∙           applicable standards and controls; and,

            ∙           the degree to which the theory has been generally accepted in the scientific community.

In Brander, the plaintiff advanced medical testimony that he would need RFAs every year of his expected lifetime, a period of 36 years. The court disallowed the testimony, noting that the plaintiff’s physicians had less than ten years personal experience in administering RFAs to patients, the medical literature only considered the effectiveness of RFAs over a span of seven to ten years, and there was no showing that the 36-year treatment plan was in general acceptance by the medical community.  According to the court, the expert opinions offered by plaintiff failed Daubert “on all points.” As a result, the plaintiff was permitted to introduce testimony of future RFAs for only a seven-year period. 

The reasoning of Brander may be equally applicable to projections of lifetime treatment involving other medical procedures, such as medial branch blocks, Botox injections, or spinal cord stimulators, for which the long-term efficacy has not been firmly established in the medical literature. Opinions unsupported by personal treatment experience and peer-reviewed medical studies are not scientifically valid and are properly halted “at the gate.”

Nancy B. Gilbert is a partner with Keogh Cox in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  She is a puzzle-solver by nature, and specializes in providing clear and in-depth analysis of complex litigation issues.  

The “Collateral Source Rule” & How it Can Cost (or Make) You Thousands – Part I

Imagine you are a defendant sued because you negligently injured someone in Louisiana.  In the accident, the plaintiff received extensive medical treatment. The health insurer paid $50,000 for medical costs even though the doctors billed $150,000 for the plaintiff’s care. The plaintiff was only out-of-pocket $500 for his health insurance deductible. What amount should you have to pay: $150,000, $50,000, or only $500?

The answer to this question is not so simple. You will certainly have to pay more than the plaintiff’s deductible, that much is clear. But whether you are required to pay the medical providers’ full rate of $150,000, the insurer’s discounted rate of $50,000, or some other amount for the medical services provided is a more complicated issue.

This blog is broken down in a two-part series. This installment will address the background of the collateral source rule and the public policy behind the rule.

What is the Collateral Source Rule?

The collateral source rule provides that a tortfeasor is generally not entitled to a credit for payments made to a plaintiff through “collateral sources,” i.e., sources not provided by the defendant. Under this rule, a tortfeasor’s exposure for damages should be the same regardless of whether or not the plaintiff purchased health insurance.

The collateral source rule permits the plaintiff to recover medical expenses in excess of the amounts actually paid by the plaintiff or their insurer. Critics therefore assert that the rule provides a “windfall” to the plaintiff that violates the goal of Louisiana tort law, namely to make the victim “whole.”  As applied, the rule can make the victim more than whole.

Origins of the Collateral Source Rule

To understand the collateral source rule, it helps to look at its origins. The rule in the United States at least dates back to the 1854 case The Propeller Monticello v. Mollison, 58 U.S. (17 How.) 152, 15 L.Ed. 68 (1854). In Propeller Monticello, two ships wrecked and one sank. The insurer of the ship that sank paid for the loss. The owner of the at fault ship asserted that the plaintiff had been fully compensated by the insurer’s payment and that it was therefore not obligated to pay for the damage. In rejecting this argument, the Propeller Monticello Court held the defendant was not a party to the insurance contract and could not reduce exposure by citing to the insurance available to the plaintiff.

Policies Behind the Collateral Source Rule

In Dep’t of Transp. & Dev. v. Kansas City S. Ry. Co., 846 So. 2d 734 (La. 5/20/03), the Louisiana Supreme Court detailed the public policy concerns that support the collateral source rule. According to the court, the policies in favor of the rule include:

i.  Fairness– a defendant should not gain an advantage from benefits provided to the plaintiff independent of any act of the defendant;

ii.  Deterrence– the rule provides a deterrence to negligent conduct; and,

iii.  Promotion of Insurance– victims could be dissuaded from purchasing insurance if that act could affect tort recovery.

So, how much do you owe: $50,000, $150,000, or some other amount? We’ll tell you in Part II of this blog.

Walking Drivers: A “Sudden” Defense to Rear-end Liability

A rear-end collision is a unique animal in the law. Plaintiff’s attorneys seek them out, and insurance companies fear them­­–sometimes for good reason.  The “rear-end” accident is unique because proof of the mere fact that one vehicle strikes the rear of another creates a strong legal presumption of fault under La. R.S. 32:81. While this presumption is formidable, it may be overcome.