The West Virginia High Court issues a slew of rulings – some for, some against insurers

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The West Virginia Supreme Court has issued four rulings that could affect payments to insurers in auto, homeowner and worker accident claims.

Non-employee covered

In Ball v. United Financial Casualty Co., the court found that the insurer had to provide coverage to a non-employee who had been licensed to drive a vehicle and caused an accident that injured an insured’s worker.

State Supreme Court of Appeals Answered US Certified Question 4e Circuit Court of Appeals. The state court essentially agreed with federal appellate judges and cited a 1987 court ruling that West Virginia law specifically stated “that the legislature has demonstrated a clear intention to provide coverage.” to anyone using a vehicle with the owner’s permission as a means of giving better protection to those involved in traffic accidents. The law should be interpreted liberally to ensure coverage.

The incident happened in 2016. Workers at a hardware store in Milton were carrying out construction work on a man’s home. The owner of the hardware business allowed the owner to move one of the company’s trucks, which was blocking the driveway. When he backed up, however, the man pinned a worker against another truck, causing serious injury and hospitalization.

Greg Ball, the injured worker, sought compensation from United Financial, which was Milton Hardware’s liability insurer. The auto insurance provided up to $1 million in liability “to anyone using Milton Hardware vehicles” with authorization, Ball’s attorneys argued.

United Financial, a progressive insurance company, asked a federal district court to declare that it had no obligation. The policy contained a workers’ compensation exclusion and an employee compensation exclusion in such circumstances. The federal district court agreed with the insurance company.

On appeal, however, on 4e The Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, noting that the workers’ compensation exclusion did not apply because the claim was against a third party — the landlord — not the employer. The employee compensation exclusion also did not apply because it violates state law, the appeals judges said.

On remand, parties could not agree on the extent of coverage United Financial owed Ball under West Virginia auto insurance laws: Did the exclusion still apply? beyond the $25,000 coverage limit? This led to another round of calls. Finding no precedent in the West Virginia court’s decision, on 4e Circuit asked the state High Court to decide.

The judges came out firmly on the side of the injured worker.

Hutchinson

“We now find that where an exclusion in an automobile liability insurance policy violates West Virginia Code § 33-6-31(a) because it would deny coverage to a permissive user of an insured vehicle , the exclusion is void and the insurance policy must provide coverage to the permissive user up to the full limits of liability coverage available under the policy,” wrote Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hutchinson in the majority opinion of November 17. Judge Tim Armstead dissented.

The case now dates back to the 4e Circuit for continuation of the procedure.

Liability in the event of an air accident

In another workers’ compensation case, the state Supreme Court awarded relief to airline insurer Praetorian Insurance Co. on some grounds but not others. The case was deemed very important to the insurance community and resulted in amicus briefs filed by the West Virginia Insurance Federation and the state Chamber of Commerce.

The case also involved West Virginia lawyers applying Wisconsin law to a fatal robbery that began in Kentucky, ended in West Virginia and was insured by a Wisconsin carrier owned by an investment firm. Australian.

The estate of Air Cargo Carriers first officer Anh Ho had sued the air delivery company, arguing it was responsible for the 2017 plane crash in Charleston that killed two pilots, was not to immune from actions in tort and was not bound by the exclusive remedy of comp. The reason, according to the plaintiffs, is that the airline was negligent and intentionally ignored mandatory security measures.

The National Transportation Safety Board found the crash to be the result of pilot error and an overly steep landing descent, according to dispatches.

Praetorian, owned by QBE Investments, insures owners as well as airlines and other businesses. Her attorneys argued that she should be allowed to intervene in the case because she had a vested interest in keeping the case in the cheapest workers’ compensation arena.

The West Virginia high court ruled that Praetorian lacked standing. Although federal rules of civil procedure permit insurers to intervene in claims against the insured, in this case the insurance company sought to intervene only to determine whether it had a duty to defend.

“Praetorian seeks to intervene to assert Air Cargo’s workers’ compensation immunity. None of the cases cited by Praetorian allowed an insurer to intervene to assert a right belonging to its insured,” Judge Haley Bunn wrote in the Notice of November 17.

But on another issue, the court sided with the insurer and concluded that the insurance policy excluded coverage for the intentional acts of the insured airline. The trial court erred in finding that the West Virginia law authorizing the exclusion was limited in scope, the judges said.

And, as in the United Financial Casualty Co. case above, questions have been raised about whether the exclusion violated state law.

Wisconsin law applies in the case, the Supreme Court justices said and the parties agreed, as case law has long established that the law of the state where the insurance policy was formed will prevail. . The Kanawha County, West Virginia, trial court found that Wisconsin law prohibits denying coverage for flight operations that violate airline regulations.

But the High Court overturned that and found that the Wisconsin law only applied to aircraft insurance policies, not workers’ compensation and liability policies. The trial court’s decision was reversed in part, upheld in part and remanded.

More deliberate intent

In another case involving workers and exceptions to his immunity, the court overturned a 2021 trial court order in a tragedy involving a city worker who was killed while digging a drainage pipe trench.

The widow in Edwards v. Star sued her husband’s supervisors, claiming they were responsible for his death due to willful intent and reckless conduct. But the Supreme Court ruled that it had failed to prove its intent and that the defendants were shielded from civil lawsuits due to workers’ compensation immunity.

HO policy can be overridden

In a fourth case, the court ruled, at least temporarily, against Allstate Vehicle and Property Insurance Co., which issued a policy for a dilapidated house the owner was remodeling.

After a fire damaged the home and its contents, Allstate voided the policy, saying the landlord had incorrectly stated he planned to live in the home within 30 days. The owner sued for breach of contract. The trial court granted Allstate’s motion to vacate the policy, saying no question of fact existed on the owner’s claim statements.

The Supreme Court said questions did exist and sent the case back for further deliberation.

Top photo: An Air Cargo Carriers plane in 2022. (Larry MacDougal via AP)

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