Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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Jane held a minority stake in Du-Kane and Crush-Crete, companies owned by her husband, Paul, and other family members. The couple divorced in 2009. Jane died in 2017. Paul died months later. In 2017 Jane’s estate sued, alleging that Jane’s ownership interest was wrongfully diluted after the divorce. The complaint named only Du-Kane as the defendant, though the allegations concerned the actions of the couple's four sons as officers, directors, and shareholders. An amended complaint filed in 2018 added Crush-Crete and the Dunteman brothers as codefendants. The codefendants were insured under “claims made” liability policies issued in 2017 and 2018 by Hanover. With “claims made” insurance, the insured must notify the insurer of a “claim” in the policy period in which it is first “made.” If a claim goes unreported in the relevant policy period, the insurer owes no duty to defend or indemnify. The defendants notified Hanover and sought coverage under the 2018 policy. Hanover denied the request because the claim was first made in 2017 and had not been timely reported during that policy period.Hanover sought a declaration that it owed no defense or indemnity. The insureds counter-claimed breach of contract. The Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment for Hanover. The original complaint triggered a reportable claim during the 2017 policy period. Subsequent amendments to that complaint did not commence a new, distinct claim first made in 2018. View "Hanover Insurance Co. v. R.W. Dunteman Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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Bernacchi was a passenger in a taxicab insured by First Chicago when an uninsured driver struck the cab. In February 2021, an Illinois court concluded that Bernacchi was covered under the First Chicago policy up to $350,000. On February 11, 2021, Bernacchi sent First Chicago documentation, requesting $350,000, though she valued her entire loss at $680,000. On May 11, 2021, Bernacchi filed suit in federal court, alleging that First Chicago had still not done anything to adjust her claim.The district dismissed, reasoning that Bernacchi’s complaint failed to cite any contract language creating an obligation to adjust her claim or to do so within a certain timeframe; Bernacchi’s claim relied upon the Illinois Insurance Code, which does not provide a private right of action. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not violate the party presentation rule. The parties squarely argued about Illinois insurance statutes and administrative regulations; 215 ILCS 5/215 ILCS 5/154.6 enumerates a list of acts that constitute improper claims practice, but neither it nor its surrounding statutes provide a private right of action. View "Bernacchi v. First Chicago Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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In 2012, a competitor sued Creation for trademark violations. Creation requested that Selective Insurance provide coverage. Selective refused. Creation’s settlement with its competitor prevented Creation from selling one of its primary lines. Creation struggled financially. Selective sought a declaration in Illinois state court that it had no duty to defend. Creation countersued and also alleged breach of the insurance policy. The Illinois court entered partial summary judgment for Creation on its duty-to-defend claim, limited to fees Creation incurred before the original trademark litigation was settled.In 2014—in the middle of the state-court litigation—Creation sued Selective in federal court for breach of contract and under the Illinois Insurance Code. In 2016, Creation voluntarily dismissed its state-court breach-of-contract claim with leave to refile. The Illinois court expressly reserved Creation’s right to maintain its federal action on its contract claim. After the 2017 state court award, the federal district court awarded Creation nearly $3 million in damages on the Insurance Code claim. After remand, Creation unsuccessfully sought to amend its complaint to seek punitive damages. The district court then concluded that the doctrines of claim and issue preclusion barred Creation’s remaining contract claim.The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that the case is an “anomaly.” The state court expressly reserved Creation’s right to file the claim in federal court, so the suit is not precluded by its earlier state-court litigation. View "Creation Supply, Inc. v. Selective Insurance Co. of the Southeast" on Justia Law

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Olson and Zdroik sustained injuries while volunteering at municipal fireworks displays in 2018. Fireworks distributed by Spielbauer Fireworks exploded prematurely at both events, severely burning the two. Both towns used teams of volunteers to operate their Fourth of July displays. Olson opened and closed a bin from which other volunteers retrieved fireworks during the Rib Lake show. Zdroik worked at the Land O’Lakes event as a “shooter,” manually lighting the fuses on mortar shells.Spielbauer’s insurer, T.H.E. Insurance, contested coverage under Spielbauer’s general and excess liability policies, which stated: This policy shall NOT provide coverage of any kind ... for any claims arising out of injuries or death to shooters or their assistants hired to perform fireworks displays or any other persons assisting or aiding in the display of fireworks whether or not any of the foregoing are employed by the Named Insured, any shooter or any assistant. The issue was whether the exclusion extends to all volunteers or only to those assisting hired shooters or hired assistants.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, in favor of T.H.E. Insurance. The Shooters Endorsement plainly and unambiguously excludes from coverage hired shooters and their hired assistants and “any other persons” who assist the fireworks display, regardless of whether they assist hired persons. View "T.H.E. Insurance Co. v. Olson" on Justia Law

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Cope, injured on a Kentucky job site, filed a workers’ compensation claim. The subcontractor who hired him for the project, CMC, is based in Southern Indiana, and had an insurance policy with AFICA. Schultheis Insurance Agency procured the policy for CMC, but failed to inform AFICA that CMC did business in Kentucky. AFICA sought a declaration that its policy does not cover Cope’s claim.The district court granted AFICA summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The plain text of the policy is unambiguous: because CMC failed to notify AFICA until after Cope’s accident that it was working in Kentucky, AFICA is not liable for Cope’s workers’ compensation claim. The policy states : “If you have work on the effective date of this policy in any state [other than Indiana], coverage will not be afforded for that state unless we are notified within thirty days.” View "Accident Fund Insurance Co. v. Schultheis Insurance Agency, Inc." on Justia Law

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Greenbank purchased “Thomas” for $500,000, for use as a competitive showhorse. Greenbank obtained insurance from GA that included coverage for Thomas’s “death” or “authorized humane destruction.” In February 2018, Thomas became sick. Over the next few months, Thomas lost 50 pounds and developed cellulitis in all four legs and uveitis in his eye. In April 2018, Greenbank reported Thomas’s pneumonia to GA. Greenbank's veterinarian informed GA that Thomas “probably” needed to be euthanized. GA retained its own veterinarians. Thomas was transported to its facility, where Dr. MacGillivray advised that it would not be unreasonable to make a euthanasia recommendation but she wanted to try treatment. Greenbank objected, arguing that treatment would destroy Thomas’s future athleticism. After his surgery, Thomas made a "remarkable" recovery. Thomas is still doing well.GA denied coverage for certain treatments and rejected Greenbank’s renewal payment of $14,725.000, citing her failure to provide immediate notice of Thomas’s illness in February 2018. Greenbank argued that GA acted in bad faith by unreasonably withholding consent for authorized humane destruction and that GA’s continued care and control over Thomas after the policy terminated constituted conversion and theft.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her claims. Thomas saw three veterinarians in five months; no veterinarian certified that Thomas needed to be euthanized. Nothing in the contract requires GA to protect Thomas’s use as a show horse. Greenbank never made an unqualified demand for Thomas’s return nor did she establish that any demand would have been futile. View "Greenbank v. Great American Assurance Co." on Justia Law

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Corwell’s insurance broker told him that Coventry would essentially provide free life insurance for a couple of years before an assignment of the policy to those who had funded it from the beginning, at no expense or risk to the insured. In 2006, Corwell, age 78, applied to Sun Life for a $5 million life insurance policy, indicating that his family L.P. would be the primary beneficiary and Corwell would be the owner. The annual premium, $300,000 per year, exceeded Corwell’s income almost every year. Corwell falsely stated that the premiums would not involve premium financing. Sun would not have issued the policy if it had known that Corwell would be using a non-recourse loan to pay the premiums. At the end of the loan’s 30-month term, Coventry notified Corwell that the balance was $569,572; Corwell could either repay it or relinquish the policy. As expected, Corwell relinquished the policy, which the lender sold to Coventry. Sun Life rejected a 2017 death claim and sought a declaratory judgment that the policy was void as an illegal wagering contract, procured for the benefit of strangers who lacked an insurable interest, in violation of Illinois law. The district court granted Sun summary judgment and allowed it to keep almost all of the premiums.The Seventh Circuit affirmed with the exception of part of the premiums. Illinois law looks beyond the form of the transactions and considers the substance to determine whether a purchase was supported by an insurable interest. This funding arrangement was an unlawful wager by strangers on Corwell’s life. View "Sun Life Assurance Company of v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Circle Block owns and operates a downtown Indianapolis hotel with more than 200 guest rooms, a business center, and spa and fitness facilities. In March 2020, state and county governments adopted public health measures in response to the spread of COVID-19, prohibiting public gatherings of more than 50 people. An Indiana stay-at-home order restricted travel and mandated the closure of all non-essential businesses. Hotels were considered essential businesses “to the extent they are used for lodging and delivery or carryout food services.” By March 19, only six guest rooms were occupied. A month later, the hotel suspended operations, while continuing to incur expenses. Circle Block filed an unsuccessful claim under its commercial property insurance policy, which included business income and extra expense coverage, civil authority coverage, dependent property coverage, communicable disease coverage, and business access coverage; each required “direct physical loss or damage” to property. The policy had a “mortality and disease” exclusion.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case and denied a motion to certify questions of state law to the Indiana Supreme Court. Circle Block did not allege any direct physical loss or damage; a mere loss of use or functionality was not sufficient. Nor were allegations that virus particles had attached to surfaces at the hotel enough to show direct physical loss or damage. View "Circle Block Partners, LLC v. Fireman's Fund Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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Larry Nassar, who was affiliated with USAG, sexually assaulted hundreds of female athletes. After Nassar’s conduct was revealed, USAG faced multiple lawsuits and investigations. USAG and its insurers, including Liberty, litigated questions about insurance coverage in an adversary proceeding before a bankruptcy court. In a previous appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision that Liberty had a duty to defend USAG. There were ancillary disputes over the amounts of attorneys’ fees that Liberty owed USAG. While an appeal was pending, USAG sought to enforce the order entitling it to reimbursement. Liberty resisted, asserting that large portions of the fees USAG claimed were not reasonable and necessary. The bankruptcy court recommended that the district court award USAG nearly all the requested fees. The district court adopted most of the bankruptcy court’s findings and entered judgment for USAG.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The lower courts correctly concluded that USAG was entitled to a presumption that the fees it incurred were reasonable and necessary despite Liberty’s challenges to the nature of USAG’s supervision of outside counsel and the proportion of fees paid by USAG. The particular form of supervision suggested by Liberty and the policyholder’s full payment of all the fees it incurred are not prerequisites for that presumption. Liberty failed to rebut the presumption. View "USA Gymnastics v. Liberty Insurance Underwriter, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2001, Levy, a 37-year-old single mother of two, purchased a 20-year term life insurance policy from West Coast, with a $3 million benefit payable upon her death to her sons. In January 2019, Benita—in deteriorating physical and mental health—missed a payment. Approximately five months later, she died, having never paid the missed premium. West Coast declared the policy forfeited.Levy's sons filed suit, alleging breach of contract and that a late-2018 missed-payment notice failed to comply with the Illinois Insurance Code, which forbids an insurer from canceling a policy within six months of a policyholder’s failure to pay a premium by its due date (calculated to include a 31-day grace period) unless the insurer provided notice stating “that unless such premium or other sums due shall be paid to the company or its agents the policy and all payments thereon will become forfeited and void, except as to the right to a surrender value or paid-up policy as provided for by the policy.” West Coast’s 2018 notice incorporated much of the statutory language. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The Notice adequately alerted policyholders to the consequences of nonpayment; there was no need for the Notice to mention the company’s agents as alternate payees. View "Levy v. West Coast Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law