CT Property and Casualty Insurance Law Newsletter – December 2023
January 2, 2024
Authored by: Joseph R. Ciollo
Superior Court – Uninsured Motorist Benefits – Summary Judgment
In Funnie v. Love et al, the plaintiff alleged that he was a passenger in a 2012 Nissan Altima owned by the defendant Tadae Love and operated by an unknown driver when the vehicle left the roadway and struck a utility pole and a fire hydrant, causing injuries to the plaintiff. The plaintiff alleged that defendant Progressive Direct Insurance Company issued a policy of insurance covering the Nissan Altima and that he was entitled to Uninsured Motorist (“UM”) benefits. Progressive moved for summary judgment on the UM claim and argued that the Nissan Altima was a “covered auto” under the applicable policy and thus, UM coverage was not available in these circumstances. Relying on its policy language, Progressive distinguished a “covered auto” from an “uninsured motor vehicle.” The plaintiff admitted that the Nissan Altima was a “covered auto,” but argued that it was premature for the Court to rule on Progressive’s motion for summary judgment because he had been prevented from deposing a Progressive representative regarding the meaning of the applicable policy terms, which according to the plaintiff left those terms ambiguous. However, the Court noted that the plaintiff failed to identify any ambiguity in the policy definitions of “covered auto” and “uninsured motor vehicle.” Moreover, the Court did not perceive any such ambiguity. The Court found that the plain and unambiguous terms of the policy did not provide UM coverage for a single car accident involving the covered Nissan Altima. The motion for summary judgment was granted.
U.S. District Court – Extracontractual Claims – Motion to Dismiss
In Edwards v. The Travelers Casualty Company et al, the plaintiff filed an action against Travelers and alleged that after he had a motor vehicle accident, Travelers wrongfully denied him coverage under his insurance policy. The plaintiff claimed that although Travelers partially repaired his vehicle, said repairs were not completed in accordance with the insurance policy and the vehicle remained undriveable. The plaintiff’s complaint included claims for violation of the Connecticut Unfair Insurance Practices Act (“CUIPA”) and for tortious bad faith. Travelers filed a motion to dismiss as to those claims. The Court noted that CUIPA itself does not provide a private right of action, but a plaintiff may assert a private cause of action based on a substantive violation of CUIPA through the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act’s (“CUTPA”) enforcement provision. Here, the complaint did not reference CUTPA, but the Court explained that even if it had, the complaint still did not plausibly state a claim under CUIPA because it does not allege facts suggesting that Travelers engaged in any of the alleged conduct as part of a general business practice, which is a requirement for liability under CUIPA. The motion to dismiss the tortious bad faith claim was based on Travelers’s position that it was duplicative of the plaintiff’s separate claim for breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing. While the Court acknowledged that there may be circumstances where a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing is distinct from a tortious bad faith claim, the Court cited prior Connecticut decisions where courts have held that these causes of action were duplicative where they were based on the same underlying insurance contract. The Court granted the motion to dismiss the claims for violation of CUIPA and tortious bad faith.
Appellate Court – Homeowners Insurance – Motor Vehicle Liability Exclusion
In Liberty Insurance Corporation et al v. Johnson et al, the insurer filed a declaratory judgment action regarding its coverage obligations relating to an underlying tort action involving personal injury claims brought by a motor vehicle passenger, Jordan Torres. The defendants in the underlying tort action were insured under a homeowners insurance policy issued by Liberty. Torres alleged that the the minor son of Liberty’s insureds consumed alcohol at the insureds’ home and then operated a vehicle while Torres was a passenger. While navigating a curve, the insureds’ son lost control of the vehicle and struck a telephone pole. The Appellate Court analyzed the applicability of a motor vehicle liability exclusion contained in the homeowners insurance policy, which was the basis for Liberty’s motion for summary judgment. A key component of the Appellate Court’s decision was the concept that the claimed bodily injury “arose out of” the use of a motor vehicle. The motor vehicle exclusion was appropriately invoked by the insurer showing that the injury was connected with, had its origins in, grew out of, flowed from, or was incident to the use of the motor vehicle. Even though the claims in the underlying tort action also included a theory of social host liability, such circumstances did not change the fact that the injury “arose out of” the use of a motor vehicle. The Appellate Court followed a line of prior Connecticut decisions with similar fact patterns and rulings in favor of insurers. So long as a plaintiff’s injuries are related—even slightly—to the use of a motor vehicle, coverage is excluded. The motion for summary judgment was granted, and the Appellate Court declared that Liberty had no duty to defend its insureds in the underlying tort action.