Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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After a mother requested life-insurance proceeds for the benefit of her two minor children after the death of the children’s father, the insurance company requested that she provide the appropriate guardianship documentation. The insurance company received the order appointing the mother guardian and providing directions for the issuance of funds. But the insurance company did not issue the funds as instructed by the order, and the mother misappropriated the funds. A guardian ad litem was then appointed by the chancery court for the minor children and eventually sued the insurance company in the Mississippi Circuit Court for negligence and breach of contract. The circuit court granted the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment, holding that because the insurance company was not a party to the guardianship proceeding in chancery court, the insurance company was not subject to liability for an alleged violation of the guardianship order. The Mississippi Supreme Court found, however, that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to the insurance company’s liability and that summary judgment should not have been granted. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a trial on the merits. View "Samson v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America" on Justia Law

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Theresa Driskell, with the help of an insurance agent, submitted applications for a life insurance policy and a disability income rider. When reviewing the application, the insurance company discovered Driskell was ineligible for the disability income rider. So it issued her a life insurance policy that varied from her application: a policy that did not provide disability income. Driskell received this policy and reviewed it. She did not reject or return it. Instead, she accepted the policy and began making premium payments. Nearly three years later, Driskell made a claim with the insurer for disability income. Because the policy did not include a disability income rider, the insurer denied her claim. Driskell sued the insurer, citing her expectation of disability income coverage. The insurer moved for summary judgment, which the trial judge denied. The Mississippi Supreme Court granted the insurer’s interlocutory appeal to decide if summary judgment was wrongly denied. After review, the Court determined it was clear the policy issued to Driskell and accepted by her did not include a disability income rider. Therefore, it reversed the denial of summary judgment and rendered a judgment in the insurer’s favor. View "Mutual of Omaha Insurance Co. v. Driskell" on Justia Law

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In May 2015, the Chickasaw County School District entered into a contract with Sullivan Enterprises, Inc., for window restoration work on the Houlka Attendance Center. In July 2015, during construction, a fire began that completely consumed the attendance center. Liberty Mutual, the school district’s insurer, paid the school district $4.3 million for the damage to the building. Liberty Mutual then filed a subrogation suit against Sullivan Enterprises, Fowlkes Plumbing, LLC, and Quality Heat & Air, Inc. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi found that the waiver of subrogation did not apply to damages to the “non-Work” property, thus Liberty Mutual could proceed in litigation as to “non-Work” property damages. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit allowed an interlocutory appeal and certified a question to the Mississippi Supreme Court regarding whether the subrogation waiver applied to “non-Work” property. The Supreme Court determined that based on the plain meaning of the contract language, the waiver of subrogation applied to both work and non-work property. View "Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co. v. Fowlkes Plumbing, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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Maria Thompson filed sued Dennis Holliman and Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company (“Allstate”) alleging that Holliman had negligently operated his motor vehicle while pulling a trailer in a gas-station parking lot, resulting in a collision in which she was injured. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Holliman, and the circuit court entered a judgment consistent with the jury verdict. Aggrieved, Thompson appealed, alleging that the trial court had abused its discretion by excluding her expert witness. Finding no abuse of the trial court's discretion, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed judgment in Holliman's favor. View "Thompson v. Holliman" on Justia Law

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Benjamin Robinson drove his employer’s vehicle into the rear end of a stopped Holmes County garbage truck. The garbage truck was stopped picking up garbage on the side of the highway in dense fog. Robinson sued Holmes County and his uninsured motorist carrier, Brierfield Insurance Company. Robinson claimed Holmes County was negligent in its operation of the garbage truck. Robinson also asserted a breach of contract claim, stating that Brierfield Insurance Company breached the insurance contract by denying him uninsured motorist benefits. The trial court granted summary judgment and found not only that Holmes County was not negligent but also that it was immune under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The trial court further found that, since Holmes County was not negligent, Brierfield also was not liable as the uninsured motorist insurance provider. Robinson appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed granting summary judgment to Holmes County and Brierfield Insurance Company. View "Robinson v. Holmes County, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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This case arose from Hurricane Katrina insurance litigation. After the hurricane had destroyed many homes, policyholders and insurance companies began litigating whether the hurricane losses were caused by flood damage or wind damage. The distinction determined whether the insurance companies would pay claims on those polices that did not cover flood damage. This case is before the Court on interlocutory appeal. Safeco Insurance Company (Safeco) and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company individually challenged the circuit court’s reassignment of their respective cases and the appointment of a special master. The Mississippi Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in reassigning judges, but vacated the order appointing the special master, finding an abuse of the trial court’s discretion. “The order itself acknowledged a blind-billing provision was “unusual.” But the Supreme Court found it was more than that: requiring both parties, one of which is the State of Mississippi, to pay an attorney in Louisiana to act as a judge, allowing either side to meet with him ex parte, and not requiring this special master to mention these meetings or even justify or detail his bill far exceeded the discretionary authority to appoint special masters.” View "Safeco Insurance Company of America v. Mississippi, ex rel. Hood" on Justia Law

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James Allen Insurance Brokers (JAIB) and Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, Subscribing to Certificate No. FRO-100944 (Lloyd’s) petitioned the Mississippi Supreme Court for interlocutory review of the Simpson County, Mississippi Circuit Court’s order granting partial summary judgment in favor of First Financial Bank (FFB). The trial court held that FFB was entitled to insurance proceeds from a fire loss that occurred at Luther and Freda Feazell’s poultry farm, because JAIB and Lloyd’s failed to comply with Mississippi law requiring notice of cancellation of property insurance. JAIM and Lloyd's claimed the Feazells' premium was not received on time; the effective date of the policy at issue here was reset to the date premium was paid. The Supreme Court determined coverage was effective December 13, 2013, and under the terms of the binder, and FFB having been listed in the binder as a mortgagee/loss payee, triggered Miss. Code Ann. Section 83-5-28(1)’s notification requirements. JAIB and Lloyd’s failed to comply with those statutory notification requirements; therefore, they were liable to FFB for its loss. Accordingly, the Supreme Court determined the trial court correctly granted partial summary judgment in favor of FFB. View "James Allen Insurance Brokers and Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London, Subscribing to Certificate NO. FRO-100944 v. First Financial Bank" on Justia Law

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Dorothy Smith sued her homeowner's insurance carrier, Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company (“Farm Bureau”), after Farm Bureau denied her claim based on the earth-movement exclusion in the policy. Smith filed suit against her home builder, Larry Brown, d/b/a Brown’s Construction Company, and Farm Bureau after learning that her home’s foundation was defective. Smith filed a claim for the repair of the foundation. Farm Bureau filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by the trial court. Farm Bureau then filed a petition for interlocutory appeal by permission, which the Mississippi Supreme Court granted. The Supreme Court found the trial court erred in denying Farm Bureau’s motion for summary judgment: the earth-movement exclusion was unambiguous and excluded coverage for the property damage suffered by Smith. View "Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Timothy Hinton died from injuries sustained in a fall from a tree stand. At the time of his fall, Timothy was wearing a fall-arrest system which included a full-body harness, tether and tree strap. Timothy had purchased the tree stand and fall-arrest system from The Sportsman’s Guide, Inc. (“TSG”), in 2009. C&S Global Imports, Inc. (“C&S”) had manufactured the items and marketed them to TSG. Pekin Insurance Company insured C&S at the time of Timothy’s injury and death. After filing their third amended complaint, the Hintons filed a motion for partial summary judgment against Pekin, claiming Pekin waived its defenses to coverage or should have been estopped from asserting any coverage defenses. Among other arguments, the Hintons maintained that Pekin failed to defend C&S, did not file a declaratory-judgment action and allowed a default judgment against C&S. The circuit court denied the Hintons’ motion. Pekin then moved for summary judgment, arguing the insurance policy excluded coverage for tree or deer stands and related equipment. The circuit court granted Pekin’s motion and entered a final judgment dismissing Pekin from the suit. The Hintons appealed both of the circuit court’s rulings. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the order denying partial summary judgment to the Hintons, the order granting summary judgment to Pekin and the final judgment dismissing Pekin from the suit. View "Hinton v. Pekin Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of state law to the Mississippi Supreme Court pertaining to an incident at Omega Protein Corporation’s (Omega) facility that resulted in the death of an employee of Accu-Fab & Construction, Inc. (Accu-Fab). Although Colony Insurance Company (Colony) continually maintained that it did not insure Omega, Colony negotiated and paid a settlement claim under a reservation of rights on Omega’s behalf. Because Colony took the position that it had no duty to defend Omega at all, the district court concluded that Mississippi’s voluntary-payment doctrine precluded Colony’s claims for equitable subrogation and implied indemnity. Pursuant to Mississippi case-law, an insurer is barred from seeking indemnity for a voluntary payment. In order to recover, the indemnitee must prove that it both paid under compulsion and that it was legally liable to the person injured. The question certified from the federal court posited whether an insurer acts under “compulsion” if it takes the legal position that an entity purporting to be its insured is not covered by its policy, but nonetheless pays the settlement demand in good faith to avoid potentially greater liability that could arise from a future coverage determination, and whether the insurer satisfies the “legal duty” standard if it makes such a payment. The Supreme Court found an insurer does not act under compulsion if it takes the legal position that an entity purporting to be its insured is not covered by its policy but nonetheless pays a settlement demand in good faith to avoid potentially greater liability that could arise from a future coverage determination. Because the first certified question is dispositive, the Court declined to address the second certified question. View "Colony Insurance Company v. First Specialty Insurance Corporation" on Justia Law