Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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Viking Insurance Company appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment. The circuit court adjudged that stacking uninsured-motorist coverages in a Viking policy should have been separated for purposes of the State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Co. v. Kuehling, 475 So. 2d 1159 (Miss. 1985), offset. Viking covered the insured through a single policy covering both the vehicle involved in the accident, and an uninvolved vehicle while Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company covered the insured through a single policy covering two uninvolved vehicles. The circuit court applied the offset first to Viking’s coverage of the involved vehicle, and then allocated the remainder between Viking’s and Farm Bureau’s coverages of uninvolved vehicles. As the parties agreed regarding the facts of this case, the only issue before the Mississippi Supreme Court was whether or not Farm Bureau was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Court found the circuit court erred: Viking was the primary insurer, so it was entitled to an offset against its entire stacking policy amount first. It was error to apply a pro rata offset in this case. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Viking Insurance Company of Wisconsin v. Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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At issue before the Mississippi Supreme Court in this interlocutory appeal was whether the trial court erred by finding cause to grant a 120-day extension of time to serve process on Progressive Gulf Insurance Company. Plaintiffs, Jaswinder Kaur, Harvinder Singh, Karanveer Kamboj, and Gurdev Kamboj, were occupants of a vehicle that was involved in a collision with a vehicle operated by Mary Orebo and owned by Cassandra Mann. Plaintiffs’ vehicle had uninsured-motorist coverage provided by Progressive Gulf Insurance Company. Each Plaintiff filed a separate suit against all three Defendants on the eve of the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations. Progressive contended that difficulty locating other Defendants, the owner and driver of the vehicle, was not adequate cause. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in that decision. However, all parties agreed that the circuit court erred by refusing to dismiss the suits of three of the Plaintiffs who failed to seek extensions of time to serve process on Progressive before the end of the original 120-day period. View "Progressive Gulf Insurance Company v. Kaur, et al." on Justia Law

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Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company issued two public-official bonds as surety for Eddie Carthan, a member of the Holmes County, Mississippi Board of Supervisors. On appeal, the State Auditor claimed Nationwide was liable under both bonds. The undisputed facts showed the Board never paid the premium for the first bond, which was only for a year. Instead, the Board asked if the first bond could be “converted” to a four-year bond that would cover Carthan’s entire term. Nationwide complied with the Board’s request. It cancelled the first bond and issued a second bond covering Carthan’s entire term for which the Board paid the premium. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found no evidence that Carthan was actually secured simultaneously by two separate bonds. Rather, the Court found the undisputed facts showed the Board intended to procure and did in fact obtain one public-official bond in the amount of $100,000 as surety for Carthan. Because Nationwide paid $100,000 under the second, paid-for bond, the chancellor did not err by granting Nationwide summary judgment on all claims based on the first bond. View "White v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Jean Hardin filed a claim with Farm Bureau, her homeowner’s insurance carrier, following an alleged sudden collapse in the floor of her home. After Farm Bureau denied the claim, Hardin sued Farm Bureau for specific performance, breach of contract, fraud, misrepresentation, damages, emotional harm and upset, depression, attorneys’ fees, costs of litigation, and punitive damages related to Farm Bureau’s denial of coverage for damage to Hardin’s home. Farm Bureau filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. Farm Bureau sought, and the Mississippi Supreme Court granted, interlocutory appeal. The Court reversed, finding the trial court erred in denying Farm Bureau’s motion for summary judgment because Hardin demonstrated proof that the water damage to her home was caused by the failure of the Town of Leakesville to maintain the ditch beside her home. Thus, because Hardin’s damages were not covered under the policy, Farm Bureau was entitled to summary judgment. View "Mississippi Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company v. Hardin" on Justia Law

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This case involved a dispute between Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (Liberty Mutual), Hill Brothers Construction Company (Hill Brothers) and the Mississippi Transportation Commission (the Commission) regarding a fuel-adjustment clause (the FAC) in a highway-construction contract. In 2019, the Commission successfully moved to alter or amend the circuit court's judgment. The circuit court vacated its prior entry of partial summary judgment in favor of Liberty Mutual on the issue of liability, effectively denying Liberty Mutual's motion for summary judgment. The Mississippi Supreme Court granted Liberty Mutual's petition for interlocutory appeal. The company argued the 2019 order was entered in violation of the Supreme Court's mandate in Hill Brothers I. The Supreme Court determined the circuit court erred in denying Liberty Mutual's motion on liability. The circuit court's judgement was thus reversed and summary judgment reinstated in favor of the insurance company on the issue of liability. View "Liberty Mutual Insurance Company v. Mississippi Transportation Commission" on Justia Law

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Bennie Stapleton sued GEICO for abusing the judicial process after GEICO obtained a default judgment against him that was later set aside. An interlocutory appeal arose from the circuit court's denial of GEICO’s motion to dismiss Stapleton’s complaint on statute-of-limitations grounds. The Mississippi Supreme Court took the opportunity presented by this case to overrule the recent judicial expansion of Mississippi Code Section 15-1-35 (Rev. 2019) because earlier Supreme Court decisions "strayed too far from the statute’s clear text." The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "GEICO Casualty Company, et al. v. Stapleton" on Justia Law

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The jury in this case was presented with two options: find the tractor driver 100 percent liable for the motorcycle riders’ injuries or not liable at all. Neither party requested a comparative-negligence instruction. And none was given. The jury found the tractor driver liable, but only awarded the motorcycle riders a fraction of their uncontested damages. Both parties filed posttrial motions: the motorcycle riders sought more damages; the tractor driver requested a new trial. The trial court granted a new trial, agreeing with the tractor driver that the jury had rendered a “compromise verdict.” At the second trial, the jury found in favor of the tractor driver. The motorcycle riders appealed, arguing the trial court erred by granting a new trial following the first verdict. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion: the record supported the trial judge’s finding the jury had reached a compromise verdict in the first trial. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Richards v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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After suffering two work-related injuries, Sheree Cleveland settled her workers’ compensation claims with Advance Auto Parts and its workers’ compensation insurance carrier, Indemnity Insurance Company of North America. The Workers’ Compensation Commission approved the settlement. Approximately one month later, the Employer/Carrier filed a Form B-31 indicating the last payment had been made. More than a year after that, Cleveland filed a motion asserting that the Employer/Carrier had not paid all compensation due under the settlement and that two medical bills remained outstanding. The Commission found that, because a one-year statute of limitations had expired, it lacked jurisdiction to enforce its order approving the settlement agreement. Cleveland appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, questioning whether the one-year statute of limitations applied to the claim. But instead of answering that question, the Court of Appeals found that the Employer/Carrier had been estopped from asserting a statute of limitations defense because it had agreed to pay the outstanding bills and had represented to the administrative law judge that it would do so. Further, the Court of Appeals also found Cleveland's contact with the Employer/Carrier within the limitations period tolled the statute of limitations, if, in fact, it applied. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed, but for different reasons than the appellate court. The Supreme Court determined the statute of limitations did not apply to Cleveland's motion for enforcement of the settlement order, therefore, her motion was timely filed. View "Cleveland v. Advance Auto Parts" on Justia Law

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In 2016, an unidentified driver struck a flagpole owned by 100 Renaissance, LLC, causing $2,134 in damage. Renaissance filed a claim with its insurance company, Travelers Property Casualty Company of America. Renaissance sought coverage under its automobile liability-insurance policy, which included uninsured-motorist(UM) coverage. Travelers denied the claim, determining there was no coverage under the UM policy because the flagpole was not a covered "auto." Renaissance's attorney sent an email to Travelers' claims handler, setting forth the Renaissance's legal arguments as to why coverage should be afforded under Mississippi's UM statute. The claims handler forwarded the email to Travelers' in-house counsel. When the claim was still denied, Renaissance filed suit on a bad-faith failure-to-pay theory. Renaissance took the claim handler's deposition, and asked her to explain the reasons Travelers denied the claim. In an effort to resolve the matter, Travelers paid the full amount for damage to the flagpole. Renaissance, however, continued to litigate its bad-faith claim. Travelers moved for summary judgment. Renaissance responded by asking for a continuance to conduct additional discovery. The additional discovery Renaissance claimed it needed was a production of the emails between the claims handler and the in-house counsel. The trial court granted the request for Travelers to produce the emails for in camera review. After that review, the trial court found that “Travelers ha[d] waived the attorney-client privilege as it relates to attorney Jim Harris.” The trial court ordered Travelers to produce the emails and to produce Harris (in-house counsel) for a deposition. Travelers filed a petition for interlocutory appeal, which the Mississippi Supreme Court granted. The Supreme Court did not disagree with the trial court's determination that the privilege was waived, and affirmed its judgment. View "Travelers Property Casualty Company of America v. 100 Renaissance, LLC" on Justia 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