Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Insurance Law
CC 145 Main, LLC v. Union Mutual Fire Insurance Company
Defendant Union Mutual Fire Insurance Company appealed a superior court grant of summary judgment to plaintiff CC 145 Main, LLC, in a declaratory judgment action regarding the interpretation of an insurance policy exclusion. CC 145 Main owned an apartment building and purchased a “Businessowners Coverage” insurance policy that included “all risk” property insurance, which provided that Union Mutual would “pay for direct physical loss of or damage to” the covered property, unless coverage was specifically limited or excluded by the policy. The insured property sustained damage when a tenant poured cat litter down a toilet, clogging an interior pipe and causing water to overflow from a shower and toilet. The property required significant cleaning and repair, and tenants were required to temporarily relocate. CC 145 Main filed a claim with Union Mutual for water damage, which Union Mutual denied pursuant to a provision in the insurance policy excluding coverage for damage caused by “[w]ater that backs up or overflows or is otherwise discharged from a sewer, drain, sump, sump pump or related equipment.” CC 145 Main filed a complaint seeking a declaration that the water exclusion does not apply to its claim. Union Mutual filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the damage at issue was caused by water that overflowed from “drains” within the meaning of the exclusion. The trial court concluded it was unclear whether the word “drain” in the water exclusion applied to shower and toilet drains and, therefore, the water exclusion was ambiguous and had to be construed in favor of CC 145 Main. Defendant challenged the trial court’s ruling that the policy’s water damage exclusion was ambiguous and its decision to construe the policy, therefore, in favor of CC 145 Main. But finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "CC 145 Main, LLC v. Union Mutual Fire Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Schleicher & Stebbins Hotels, LLC, et al. v. Starr Surplus Lines Insurance Co., et al.
In an interlocutory appeal, multiple hotel operators challenged a superior court’s orders in a suit against defendants, multiple insurance underwriters, all relating to the denial of coverage during the COVID-19 world health pandemic. Plaintiffs owned and operated twenty-three hotels: four in New Hampshire, eighteen in Massachusetts, and one in New Jersey. Plaintiffs purchased $600 million of insurance coverage from defendants for the policy period from November 1, 2019 to November 1, 2020. With the exception of certain addenda, the relevant language of the policies was identical, stating in part that it “insures against risks of direct physical loss of or damage to property described herein . . . except as hereinafter excluded.” For periods of time, pursuant to governors’ orders, hotels in each of the three states were permitted to provide lodging only to vulnerable populations and to essential workers. These essential workers included healthcare workers, the COVID-19 essential workforce, and other workers responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Beginning in June 2020, plaintiffs’ hotels were permitted to reopen with a number of restrictions on their business operations. Plaintiffs, through their insurance broker, provided notice to defendants they were submitting claims in connection with losses stemming from COVID-19. Plaintiffs sued when these claims denied, arguing that the potential presence of the virus triggered business loss provisions in their respective policies. To this, the New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed, finding that “[w]hile the presence of the virus might affect how people interact with one another, and interact with the property, it does not render the property useless or uninhabitable, nor distinctly and demonstrably altered.” View "Schleicher & Stebbins Hotels, LLC, et al. v. Starr Surplus Lines Insurance Co., et al." on Justia Law
Keene Auto Body, Inc. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company
Plaintiff Keene Auto Body, Inc. appealed a circuit court order that dismissed its complaint against defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. Keene Auto Body, acting as an assignee of Caleb Meagher, who insured his vehicle through State Farm, sued State Farm for breach of contract for failing to cover the full cost of repairs to the insured’s vehicle. State Farm moved to dismiss the suit on grounds that, because of an anti-assignment clause in the insured’s policy, the insured’s assignment of his breach of contract claim to Keene Auto Body was not valid, and that, even if it was, Keene Auto Body did not sufficiently state a claim for breach of contract. The trial court granted the motion. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found the anti-assignment clause at issue here was ambiguous, and construed it against the insurer. Therefore, the clause did not prohibit the insured from assigning his post-loss claim to Keene Auto Body. Given this holding, the Supreme Court determined Keene Auto Body's factual allegations were sufficient to survive State Farm's motion to dismiss. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Keene Auto Body, Inc. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Appeal of Vasquez
Petitioners Javier Vasquez and his employer, Matosantos International Corporation (MIC), appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) determination that it could not order respondent, The Hartford Insurance Company, to pay workers’ compensation benefits to Vasquez. The CAB concluded that the Department of Labor (DOL), and therefore the CAB, lacked jurisdiction under the New Hampshire Workers’ Compensation Law to interpret the workers’ compensation insurance policy that MIC had purchased from The Hartford. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the CAB did have jurisdiction to consider and resolve the coverage dispute between MIC and The Hartford, it vacated the CAB’s decision and remanded for its consideration, in the first instance, of whether the policy purchased by MIC covered Vasquez when he was injured while working in New Hampshire. View "Appeal of Vasquez" on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Liquidation of The Home Insurance Company
The issue this interlocutory appeal presented for the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s review was filed by appellant Zurich Insurance plc, German Branch (Zurich). Zurich sought to challenge a superior court order that granted the motion of the Insurance Commissioner of the State of New Hampshire, as Liquidator (Liquidator) of the Home Insurance Company (Home), for approval of the Claim Amendment Deadline pursuant to the Insurers Rehabilitation and Liquidation Act (Act). Policyholders Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC, Eli Lilly and Company, ViacomCBS Inc., and the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis Settlement Trust (policyholders), submitted a brief in support of the Claim Amendment Deadline. The two questions presented were whether the superior court acted within its discretion: (1) “in granting the Liquidator’s motion and approving the Claim Amendment Deadline on the law, facts and circumstances presented”; and (2) in concluding that the Claim Amendment Deadline struck “a reasonable balance between the expeditious completion of the liquidation and the protection of unliquidated and undetermined claims” in accordance with RSA 402-C:46, I (2018). The Supreme Court answered both questions in the affirmative. View "In the Matter of the Liquidation of The Home Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Posted in: Insurance Law
O’Malley-Joyce v. Travelers Home & Marine Insurance Co.
Plaintiffs-homeowners Dylan O’Malley-Joyce and Eileen Nash appealed a superior court order granting the summary judgment motion filed by defendant Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company (the insurer), on their claims for damages and declaratory relief. The insured residence was damaged by two leaks — one in November 2017 and the other in early January 2018. The homeowners filed claims under the policy as to both leaks. Thereafter, the parties disagreed about the cost and scope of repairs. In November 2018, the insurer sought to settle the parties’ dispute by providing a contractor “who [was] willing and able to complete the work” and by “paying up to the replacement cost figures on the [contractor’s] estimates less the deductibles for each of the claims.” The policy’s appraisal provision provided, in pertinent part, that if the parties “fail to agree on the amount of loss, either may demand an appraisal of the loss.” Because the parties were unable to reach an agreement, the insurer demanded that they participate in the appraisal process set forth in the homeowners’ policy. In November 2019, the homeowners brought a two-claim complaint against the insurer. In one claim, the homeowners sought a declaratory judgment, and in the other, they sought damages for “breach of contract, bad faith, statutory violations.” Because, on appeal, the homeowners did not contest the grant of summary judgment on either their claim for declaratory judgment or their claim that the insurer violated certain statutes, the New Hampshire Supreme Court focused solely on their claims for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Because the homeowners filed neither an objection to the insurer’s summary judgment motion nor a motion to reconsider the trial court’s order, the Supreme Court determined they failed to preserve their appellate arguments for review. Nonetheless, the Court reviewed their arguments for plain error, and finding no plain error, the Court affirmed. View "O'Malley-Joyce v. Travelers Home & Marine Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Cincinnati Specialty Underwriters Insurance Company v. Best Way Homes, Inc. & a.
Defendant Russell Blodgett appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiff Cincinnati Specialty Underwriters Insurance Company (CSU). Blodgett argued the trial court erred by concluding that the terms of a commercial general liability policy issued by CSU clearly and unambiguously excluded coverage for Blodgett’s damages in a separate personal injury action against CSU’s insured resulting from Blodgett’s fall from an alleged negligently constructed staircase. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that, pursuant to the policy’s clear and unambiguous language, CSU had no duty or obligation to defend or indemnify its insured in the underlying litigation. View "Cincinnati Specialty Underwriters Insurance Company v. Best Way Homes, Inc. & a." on Justia Law
Appeal of Pelmac Industries, Inc.
Petitioner AmGUARD Insurance Group (Carrier), insurer of Pelmac Industries, Inc. (Pelmac), appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) decision awarding workers’ compensation death benefits to the respondent, the decedent-employee’s estate. The Carrier argued that the decedent’s original June 5, 2018 injury was not a work-related injury, and, in the alternative, that his subsequent death by suicide did not result from the original injury. The Carrier also argued that the CAB violated its due process rights. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Pelmac Industries, Inc." on Justia Law
101 Ocean Blvd., LLC v. Foy Insurance Group, Inc.
Defendant Foy Insurance Group, Inc. appealed a jury's verdict rendered in favor of the plaintiff, 101 Ocean Blvd., LLC (Ocean), finding that Foy was negligent for failing to advise Ocean to purchase sufficient insurance coverage to rebuild a hotel, damaged in a 2015 fire, in compliance with the current building code and awarding damages to Ocean. After review of the superior court record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the trial court's denial of Foy's motions for a directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict. View "101 Ocean Blvd., LLC v. Foy Insurance Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Ro v. Factory Mutual Insurance Company, as Subrogee of Trustees of Dartmouth College
Defendant Factory Mutual Insurance Company (Factory Mutual) appealed a superior court order denying its motion for summary judgment and granting plaintiffs' Daniel Ro and Sebastian Lim motion. Plaintiffs sought a declaration they were implied co-insureds under a fire insurance policy issued by Factory Mutual to the Trustees of Dartmouth College. Plaintiffs were students in 2016 living in campus dormitories. Prior to being assigned a dormitory room, each plaintiff was required to sign a form acknowledging receipt and understanding of the college’s student handbook, which included prohibitions on: (1) possessing charcoal grills in student housing; (2) lighting and burning of any item with an open flame in residence halls; and (3) placing items on, and the use of, “the roof, portico, fire escape, or any other architectural feature not designed for recreational or functional use, except in cases of emergency.” Plaintiffs set up a charcoal grill on a platform outside a fourth floor window in Lim’s dormitory. The grill started a fire on the platform, which then spread to the roof. Firefighters used a substantial quantity of water to extinguish the fire, and all four floors of the dormitory sustained water damage. Factory Mutual, which insured the building, paid the Trustees $4,544,313.55 and then brought a subrogation claim against plaintiffs to recover that amount. The trial court concluded that Factory Mutual could not maintain its counterclaims against either plaintiff, specifically noting, “To the extent Mr. Lim’s possessory interest in Morton Hall is insurable, so is Mr. Ro’s. Mr. Ro’s possessory interest in Morton Hall is analogous to that of a tenant who rents one unit in a residential complex but causes fire damage to another unit in the complex.” In affirming the superior court, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that, even if plaintiffs lacked a possessory interest in their dormitories, and even if their relationship with the college was not strictly that of landlord and tenant, they had a contractual relationship with the college in which they paid for the right, subject to the noted limitations, among others, to occupy a college dormitory for a certain period of time. "This contractual relationship gave rise to the reasonable expectation that Dartmouth College carried fire insurance on its dormitories, that the plaintiffs’ room and board fees contributed, in some way, to the premium for that insurance, and, therefore, that the insurance inured to their benefit." View "Ro v. Factory Mutual Insurance Company, as Subrogee of Trustees of Dartmouth College" on Justia Law