No Insurance Coverage Available Because LLC Was Not A Named Insured

No Insurance Coverage Available Because LLC Was Not A Named Insured

No coverage was available to a limited liability company when it was not named as an insured in the liability insurance policy. An individual by the name of Kouk owned multiple businesses. One of the companies, Brown and Kouk Rentals, LLC, owned and rented apartments and mobile homes to people. Another business was Vernon & Sons Construction, LLC, involved in the construction trade. The businesses maintained separate bank accounts and no funds were commingled between the businesses. Vernon & Sons Construction obtained commercial liability insurance coverage through Columbia National Insurance. Vernon & Sons Construction was the only company listed on the insurance policy.

Mr. Kouk went out one evening to a renter's home to collect the rent. When he arrived, there was a party taking place in the front yard and he was invited to share a beer. Kouk joined the gathering around a burning fire and drank a beer with those present. When he finished, he put the bottle into a metal bucket that was in the fire. Several minutes later, the bottle exploded with a piece of the glass striking a young child of the renter causing him to lose sight in one eye. The father of the injured boy filed suit against Kouk for negligence.

Kouk notified Columbia National Insurance who provided an attorney to defend the case. Columbia retained separate counsel to conduct an investigation as to whether or not there would be coverage under the policy for the incident. The coverage investigation showed that Kouk was not conducting any business on behalf of Vernon & Sons Construction when the incident happened. Columbia determined there was no coverage from the loss and withdrew the defense of the injured boy's lawsuit.

Kouk proceeded to defend the lawsuit using his own personal attorney. The jury returned a verdict against Kouk in the sum of $427,000. The minor Plaintiff then filed suit against Columbia to recover the benefits of the insurance policy.

The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals ruled:

1. The injured child could proceed directly against the insurer and without the requirement of a garnishment based upon the language in the policy allowing a party to recover a final judgment against an insured;

2. Mr. Kouk was not insured under the policy because he was not conducting business or performing duties as part of the business of the construction company when the accident occurred;

3. Columbia National was not estopped from denying coverage because Mr. Kouk had been timely informed there was a coverage question many months before the lawsuit was even filed.

Insurance - Liquor Liability

A golf course was insured by an insurance policy which included "Liquor Liability Coverage". The parents of a 17-year-old girl working at a golf course brought a lawsuit against the golf course and its manager for allegedly providing alcohol to their daughter following a golf tournament. The girl attempted to drive after consuming a substantial amount of alcohol, crashed her vehicle into a tree, and sustained serious injuries to her spinal cord resulting in paraplegia.

The insurance policy provision obligated the insurance company to pay sums owed by the golf course if they were incurred "by reason of the selling, serving or furnishing of any alcoholic beverage." The insurance policy liability limits were set at $2 Million for the "Aggregate Limit" and $1 Million for "Each Common Cause Limit".

The insurance company subsequently filed a declaratory judgment action in Federal court asking the court to establish the maximum insurance coverage available to the golf course. A summary judgment was filed requesting the court rule that $1 Million was the applicable limit since all claimed damages arose from the injuries to one person and fell under "Each Common Cause". The girl’s parents argued the limit should be $2 Million.

The Federal court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company finding the maximum limit of liability was established at $1 Million for the pending county district court case and reasoned that an insurance policy is considered a contract governed by the rules for interpretation of contracts. The plain language of the policy set the limit in this circumstance at $1 Million. The court further declared that, since it did not have the ability to rewrite the policy, it must proceed based on the agreement therein. American Economy Ins. Co. v. Rutledge, et al., 833 F.Supp.2d 1320 (W.D. Okla. 2011).

Choice of Law Governing The Liability Under An Insurance Contract

A product distributor in the oil-drilling industry was sued by several individuals claiming they were exposed to asbestos in the products distributed. The distributor subsequently filed claims with its multiple insurance companies seeking liability coverage. The insurers disagreed there was coverage for the liability claims under the policies. A series of declaratory judgment actions ensued in which the parties requested the Court to determine which party(ies), if any, were responsible for the cost of the extensive asbestos litigation the distributor was defending.

In one of the declaratory judgment actions in Federal court, the distributor/insured filed a counterclaim adding the parent company of the insurer as a separate party even though there was no contract with the parent company. It was argued by the distributor that the parent insurance company was responsible for the claims of its subsidiary which was merely an alter ego of the parent company. The parent insurance company filed a motion to dismiss the action alleging it was not liable for the subsidiaries obligation as it was a separate corporation.

The Court decided Oklahoma law did not apply to the issue of liability as to the parent company since the subsidiary was incorporated in the state of Indiana. Despite being filed in an Oklahoma Federal court, the court was required to look to the laws of the state of incorporation of the subsidiary insurance company as to whether to pierce the corporate veil. The court granted the parent company’s motion to dismiss. Canal Ins. Co. v. Montello, Inc., et al., 822 F.Supp.2d 1177 (Okla. 2011).

Liquor Liability Exclusion

An insurance company provided liquor liability coverage to a restaurant/tavern including coverage for injuries "imposed" on the insured resulting from "selling, serving or furnishing of any alcoholic beverage".

The club was sued in an underlying state court action by the parent/guardians of three minor Plaintiffs who were purportedly injured as bystanders to a fight which broke out in the insured bar. As part of the state court lawsuit, the minors never presented evidence that showed their injuries resulted from "selling, serving or furnishing alcoholic beverages", nor were any allegations made that alcohol was a factor in the injuries sustained.

The insurance company filed a declaratory action in Federal court requesting the court to determine if the insurance policy covered the injuries in the state court action and required the insurance company to defend in the underlying lawsuit.

The Federal court ruled that since the injuries did not arise out of "selling, serving or furnishing of any alcoholic beverage", coverage did not exist, and, as such, there was no duty to defend the lawsuit. The court also noted that although there was an "assault and battery" endorsement in the insurance policy, the endorsement did not apply since the loss was not covered under the liquor liability policy. Mount Vernon Fire Ins. Co. v. Olmos, 808 F.Supp.2d 1305 (Okla. 2011).

Don't Dump The UM Coverage

In September, 2010, a commercial auto insurance policy was issued to a county commissioner including uninsured motorist coverage for county vehicles. The liability limits of the policy included $125,000 per person and a maximum of $1 Million per accident.

A county worker was injured on the job while performing road-resurfacing duties and filed a claim for personal injury under the policy requesting coverage under the uninsured motorist portion of the policy contending he was operating a covered vehicle. The insurance company denied the claim and filed a declaratory judgment action stating the claimant could not be considered an insured as he was not occupying a covered vehicle and asked the court to rule there was no coverage. The claimant filed a counterclaim asserting he was entitled to policy limits of $1 Million in coverage for injuries sustained.

The claimant, as well as at least five other members of the road crew, were operating three vehicles as part of a chip-sealing method used to resurface the road; the oil distributor truck, chipper, and a dump truck. The injured claimant was riding on the back of the chipper being pushed by the dump truck when the chipper was pushed into the oil distributor truck and the claimant’s leg was pinned between the two pieces of equipment.

The parties agreed the dump truck was considered a covered vehicle under the insurance policy whereas the chipper was considered "mobile equipment". However, according to the insurance policy, mobile equipment is considered a covered auto when being "carried" or "towed" by a covered auto. These terms were not specifically defined in the insurance policy.

Plaintiff and the insurer both filed motions for summary judgment in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma. The court held that the chipper was being towed by the dump truck when the accident occurred and was therefore considered a covered auto under the policy. However, the court ruled under the circumstances there was $125,000 in uninsured motorist coverage, not $1 Million, because the amount of uninsured motorist coverage could not exceed the amount of liability coverage, i.e., $125,000.  Argonaut Ins. Co. v. Earnest, 861 F.Supp.2d 1313 (N.D. Okla. 2012).

Bubba Sued With A Declaratory Judgment Action

Bubba had "another one of them envelopes" sitting down at the Post Office. The lady wouldn't let him peek at this one either. He figured it was the "declaration of war suit."  After the EUO, the other lawyer made the comment this might end up as a "dec action."  I had explained to Bubba that insurance companies often file declaratory judgment actions when there is an issue as to coverage.  It allows a judge to decide the question. Our law firm has filed many of them to resolve all sorts of disputes and it's an appropriate method for an insurer to ask the court to make a decision in a fair and impartial way.

One disadvantage to bringing a declaratory judgment action is the potential risk the insured will view it as a hostile act.  Bubba thought suing the policyholder sounded more like "fightin' words" and called it a "declaration of war." Knowing our firm regularly files dec actions for insurance companies didn't really make Bubba feel any happier.  He was ready to "scrap it up!"

Logically, what else can an insurance company do that would be fair?  If the company doesn't believe there is coverage, asking a judge to decide the question is reasonable.  A dec action brings the issue to the court for resolution as opposed to simply saying, "No, we won't pay you."  Franky, our firm believes it is generally a "good faith" practice to ask the court to settle disagreements over coverage.  But, it sometimes results in the insured filing a counterclaim for "bad faith."