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

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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In March 2020, the Dallas County government issued orders restricting the operations of local businesses in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hotels were permitted to continue to provide lodging, and delivery and take-out food services, subject to social-distancing rules. Crescent owns the Dallas Ritz-Carlton hotel, which offers guest rooms, a restaurant and bar, general event space, a salon, spa, and fitness center. Crescent alleges that COVID-19 rendered the air in the hotel unsafe and diminished the functional space available, causing significant losses of income. Crescent also alleges that it incurred expenses to install plexiglass partitions and hand sanitizer stations, to display signs throughout the hotel, and to move furniture to permit social distancing. Crescent’s Zurich insurance policy requires “direct physical loss or damage” to covered property and includes an exclusion for losses attributable to any communicable disease, including viruses, and a microorganism exclusion, which bars coverage for losses “directly or indirectly arising out of or relating to mold, mildew, fungus, spores or other microorganisms of any type, nature, or description, including but not limited to any substance whose presence poses an actual or potential threat to human health.”The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Crescent’s suit against Zurich. The phrase “direct physical loss or damage” requires either “a permanent [dispossession] of the property due to a physical change … or physical injury to the property requiring repair.” The microorganism exclusion independently bars coverage for the hotel’s claimed losses. View "Crescent Plaza Hotel Owner, L.P. v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In March 2020, in response to the rapidly expanding COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois Governor Pritzker issued an order mandating the temporary closure to the public of restaurants, bars, and movie theaters; a subsequent order required all non-essential businesses to shut down partially and temporarily. Bradley operates a Quality Inn & Suites with a restaurant, bar, and general event space and suspended in-person dining at the restaurant and bar, and canceled previously scheduled weddings and meetings.Bradley’s general business property insurance policy from Aspen requires “direct physical loss of or damage to” covered property; its loss of use exclusion bars coverage for “loss or damage caused by or resulting from … [d]elay, loss of use or loss of market” and another exclusion bars coverage for “loss or damage caused directly or indirectly by … [t]he enforcement of or compliance with any ordinance or law: (1) Regulating the construction, use or repair of any property; or (2) Requiring the tearing down of any property.”Affirming the district court, the Seventh Circuit held that the term “direct physical loss of or damage to” property does not apply to a business’s loss of use of the property without any physical alteration. The loss of use exclusion and the ordinance or law exclusion in this policy provide separate bars to coverage. View "Bradley Hotel Corp. v. Aspen Speciality Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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On March 15, 2020, in response to the rapidly expanding COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois Governor Pritzker issued an order mandating the temporary closure to the public of restaurants, bars, and movie theaters. On March 20, another order required all non-essential businesses to shut down partially and temporarily. As a result of these orders, the plaintiffs (businesses) were each required to close or dramatically scale back operations. The businesses held materially identical commercial-property insurance policies, issued by Cincinnati Insurance Company, providing coverage for income losses sustained on account of a suspension of operations caused by “direct physical loss” to covered property. The policies also provided coverage for income losses sustained as a result of an action of civil authority prohibiting access to covered property, when such action was taken in response to “direct physical loss” suffered by other property. Cincinnati denied their claims.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of each suit. The businesses did not adequately allege that either the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, or the resulting closure orders caused “direct physical loss” to property; the loss of use, unaccompanied by any physical alteration to property, does not constitute “direct physical loss” under the relevant insurance policies. View "Sandy Point Dental, P.C. v. Cincinnati Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In 2006, Moore, an Indiana-based insurance broker, advised Mathis, an Alabama surgeon, to replace his Standard disability insurance policy with a MetLife disability-insurance policy with higher limits that had occupational disability coverage, like the Standard policy. The MetLife policy did not actually provide occupational disability coverage but provided total disability coverage only if Mathis was not gainfully employed and provided residual disability coverage only under various limitations. Mathis became disabled in 2017. Neck and arm problems prevented him from performing some of his duties. He underwent surgery but could no longer work at his usual level; his income decreased. He left his practice in March 2018 and began working for a device manufacturer in a nonsurgical capacity. MetLife paid Mathis residual disability benefits, April-August 2017, then determined he was not entitled to residual disability benefits. The policy lapsed.Mathis sued Moore and Source Brokerage for negligent procurement and brought a breach of contract claim against MetLife. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims, applying Alabama law, rather than Indiana law. Mathis’s contributory negligence in failing to read the new policy and the Alabama statute of limitations barred the negligence claims. The court rejected the contract claim because Mathis failed to comply with his contractual obligation to submit proof of loss for any period after September 2017. View "Mathis v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co" on Justia Law

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Two female students brought claims under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681–88, alleging that the School District failed to prevent and inappropriately responded to sexual misconduct by a male student. The incidents occurred while the District did not have insurance coverage for sexual misconduct and molestation. After the District settled the suit for $1.5 million, its insurers sought a declaration of their rights and obligations under the District’s errors-and-omissions coverage. The district court held that the errors and omissions coverage applies although the policy contains a sexual misconduct exclusion. The judge stated that the exclusion was ambiguous and could be read to exclude only sexual misconduct by a school employee and might not bar coverage for “reactions to” a student’s sexual misconduct.The Seventh Circuit reversed. The sexual-misconduct exclusion is not ambiguous in precluding coverage for “[a]ny” sexual misconduct or molestation of “any person” and related allegations. Even if the sexual-misconduct exclusion barred only coverage for employees’ actions, the exclusion still applies. The District is not directly liable for misconduct by students. A school district can be liable for discrimination in cases of student-on-student sexual misconduct under Title IX only if the district has notice and is deliberately indifferent. By excluding coverage for “allegations relating” to sexual misconduct, the exclusion necessarily bars coverage for “reactions to” sexual misconduct. View "Netherlands Insurance Co. v. Macomb Community Unit School District" on Justia Law

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All Seasons inspected SparrowHawk's warehouse roofs and discovered hail damage. Because All Seasons did not hold an Illinois roofing license, it arranged for Prate to serve as general contractor with All Seasons as subcontractor. All Seasons was to provide materials and labor, maintain safety, and supervise the project. All Seasons purchased a commercial general liability policy and general liability extension endorsement from United, listing Prate as an “additional insured” in a “vicarious liability endorsement.” All Seasons then subcontracted with Century. Ayala, a Century employee was working on a SparrowHawk warehouse when he fell to his death.The Illinois workers’ compensation system provided limited death benefits but precluded tort remedies against his direct employer, Century. Ayala’s estate sued Prate, All Seasons, and SparrowHawk. Prate tendered the defense to United, which declined to defend and sought a declaratory judgment. All Seasons and United reached a settlement with the estate, paying the policy limits.The district court granted Prate summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting United’s argument that because its named insured was an independent contractor, Illinois law would not impose any liability on the additional insured and there was no risk of covered liability. The duty to defend depends on the claims the plaintiff asserts, not on their prospects for success. The settlement of the underlying claims against the named insured, however, removed any possibility that the additional insured might be held vicariously liable for actions of the named insured; the duty to defend ended when that settlement was consummated. View "United Fire & Casualty Co. v. Prate Roofing & Installations LLC" on Justia Law

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Deerfield. the general contractor, subcontracted with P.S. Demolition, which agreed to indemnify and hold Deerfield harmless from all claims caused in whole or in part by P.S. P.S. employees were working at the site when an unsecured capstone fell, killing one and injuring another. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act limited P.S.’s liability to $5,993.91 and $25,229.15. The state court held that P.S. had waived the Kotecki cap that would ordinarily apply those limits to a third party (Deerfield) suing for contribution for its pro-rata share of common liability for a workplace injury. A bankruptcy court determined that P.S. had no assets; the state court determined that P.S.’s liability was limited to its available insurance coverage. Deerfield settled with the plaintiffs for substantially more than $75,000 plus an assignment of Deerfield’s contribution claim against P.S.StarNet, P.S.’s employer liability insurer, entered into a settlement with the plaintiffs, reserving its defenses to insurance coverage. The plaintiffs dismissed their negligence claims against P.S. The workers’ compensation and employers' liability policy issued to P.S. provides that StarNet will pay damages for which P.S. is liable to indemnify third parties, excluding “liability assumed under a contract, including any agreement to waive your right to limit your liability for contribution to the amount of benefits payable under the Workers Compensation Act ... This exclusion does not apply to a warranty that your work will be done in a workmanlike manner.The Seventh Circuit affirmed a declaratory judgment that StarNet owes P.S. no coverage for the employees’ injuries beyond the amounts specified by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and the Kotecki cap. The court rejected arguments that P.S.’s liability in the personal injury action arose in part from P.S.’s failure to conduct the demolition in a workmanlike manner so that the exception applies. View "StarNet Insurance Co. v. Ruprecht" on Justia Law

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SFC, an equestrian center hosted off‐site trail‐riding events. SFC and American entered into a “farm-owner” insurance policy that described the insured premises as the farm’s address. The policy provides coverage for bodily injury and property damage caused by an “occurrence” that arises out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of the “insured premises” or operations that are necessary or incidental to the “insured premises.” There is no coverage for the use of a motorized vehicle except a “motorized vehicle” which is designed only for use off public roads and which is used to service the “insured premises.” Ratay, an SFC employee, transported horses, equipment, and a golf cart from the farm to a riding center approximately 15 miles from SFC’s property, and supervised those riding SFC horses while driving the SFC golf cart. Shockley was a passenger in the cart when Ratay chased a horse through a field. Shockley flew out of the vehicle. The cart ran over his leg. Shockley filed suit.The district court entered a declaratory judgment that American has no duty to defend or indemnify SFC. The Seventh Circuit reversed. In Illinois, the duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify. The court noted ambiguities caused by the policy’s competing characteristics as a farm-owner policy and as a commercial general liability policy. The complaint’s allegations sufficiently invoke the policy’s coverage; the golf cart was being used for business purposes. View "American Bankers Insurance Co v. Shockley" on Justia Law

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In 1989, the Hamel Fire Protection District and Alhambra Fire Protection District formed a joint venture, “the Service” to provide ambulance service to residents of both districts. In 2012, a Service-operated ambulance collided with a semi-truck. The semi-truck drivers and ambulance passengers were seriously injured. The accident produced three lawsuits that eventually settled. Continental paid all attorney’s fees assessed for Hamel Fire’s defenses. Country Mutual had issued a multiperil commercial lines insurance policy to the Service.. Hamel Fire was the named insured on the Continental policy. Continental defended Hamel Fire in each lawsuit after first tendering them to Country Mutual, which ignored each tender. The ambulance was a covered auto under policies issued by both, which provided primary coverage for owned autos and excess coverage for non-owned autos.Continental sued Country Mutual. The district court granted Continental’s motion for summary judgment finding that the Service, and not Hamel Fire, owned the ambulance. Based on that finding, and both policies’ “Other Insurance” clauses, the court determined that Country Mutual owed primary coverage for the costs to defend Hamel Fire in the underlying lawsuits, while Continental only owed excess coverage. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the evidence strongly reflects the parties’ intent that Country Mutual’s insured owned the ambulance. The resulting award of attorney’s fees under Illinois law was reasonable. View "Continental Western Insurance Co. v. Country Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Two trees fell on Christopherson’s home, months apart, resulting in its total destruction. The village ordered demolition. Christopherson’s insurer, ASI, had advanced living expenses but did not provide the requested demolition payment by the village's deadline, so Christopherson razed the house himself. He did not provide invoices for the demolition or for his own labor. Christopherson sued, alleging bad-faith denial of policy benefits and informed ASI that, excluding personal property losses and additional living expenses yet to be determined, Christopherson’s losses were $143,384: the $135,000 dwelling coverage limit, $6,884 for demolition, and $1,500 for tree removal. ASI indicated that it would pay that amount, noting that it had not yet received any notice of claims for personal property.The court granted ASI a discovery protective order with respect to the bad faith claim, reasoning that Christopherson could not establish any underlying breach of the policies. ASI had already paid the full limits of his 2018–19 policy, Christopherson’s claims under his 2017–18 policy, and his additional living expenses under both policies. ASI obtained summary judgment. Christopherson had not presented evidence of costs actually incurred but not paid by ASI and could not show a breach; he had nearly exhausted the limits under both policies.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the case should be remanded to state court. Christopherson’s arguments ignore policy provisions that the insured must first incur the expenses and then provide the insurer with documentation before the insurer is obliged to pay. View "Christopherson v. American Strategic Insurance Co." on Justia Law