Authored by: Joseph Ciollo

Superior Court – Underinsured Motorist Benefits – Liability Coverage Limits

In Brenckman v. Thivierge et al, the defendant Dairyland Insurance Company (“Dairyland”) insured the motorcycle occupied by the plaintiff for Underinsured Motorist (“UIM”) coverage with limits of $100,000 / $300,000 per person / accident.  The subject accident occurred with the alleged tortfeasor’s motor vehicle struck a group of motorcycles, resulting in multiple bodily injury liability claims against the tortfeasor.  The tortfeasor’s motor vehicle was covered by liability insurance limits of $100,000 / $300,000 per person / accident.  Dairyland filed a motion for summary judgment based on the definition of an “underinsured motor vehicle” found in C.G.S. § 38a-336(e) as well as line of previous Connecticut Supreme Court and Appellate Court cases holding that a motor vehicle is not underinsured where the liability limits in the tortfeasor’s policy are equal to or greater than the underinsured benefits in the claimant’s policy.  The plaintiff urged the court to reach the opposite conclusion, arguing that the prior holdings of the Connecticut Supreme Court were abrogated by certain legislative amendments to C.G.S. § 38a-336 in 2014. However, the court noted that in a recent decision the Appellate Court squarely rejected these same arguments.  The court found that it was bound by the recent Appellate Court decision and granted Dairyland’s motion for summary judgment.

Superior Court – Connecticut Unfair Insurance Practices Act – Motion to Strike

In Cammarota v. Falls Mill of Vernon Condo. Assoc., Inc. et al, the plaintiff filed an action against multiple defendants including two insurers in connection a property damage claim involving the floor in the plaintiff’s condominium unit.  The plaintiff alleged that the defendant Travelers Personal Insurance Company (“Travelers”) breached an insurance policy contract by denying her claim on the basis that the claimed damage was caused by moisture in the crawlspace under the floor and that rot, deterioration, wear and tear, and mold are not covered under the policy.  In addition to the breach of contract claim, the plaintiff’s complaint alleged bad faith, a violation of the Connecticut Unfair Insurance Practices Act (“CUIPA”), and unjust enrichment, each of which Travelers moved to strike.  The motion to strike was granted as to all claims at issue.  Regarding the claim for bad faith, the court followed the majority of Superior Court decisions that require a plaintiff to plead specific allegations establishing a dishonest purpose or malice.  Here, the plaintiff failed to plead such allegations.  Regarding the alleged violation of CUIPA, acknowledged and followed the trend of courts striking such claims where a plaintiff has merely inserted the magic words of other acts of insurance misconduct by the defendant without stating any factual basis for that claim.  The court noted that other recent courts have concluded that a plaintiff’s bald and conclusory allegations of misconduct in various types of business practices, without any factual predicate, cannot survive a motion to strike.  Regarding the claim for unjust enrichment, the court ruled that since the plaintiff has asserted a viable claim for breach of contract, the claim for unjust enrichment failed as a matter of law because unjust enrichment is an equitable doctrine that only applies in the absence of a contractual remedy.  The court acknowledged, however, that under different facts there could be circumstances where an insurance carrier denies coverage yet can be subjected to simultaneous claims for breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

Superior Court – Bad Faith – Motion to Strike

In Infinity Real Estate Advisors, LLC and Zion Park MF II, LLC v. Westchester Surplus Lines Ins. Co. et al, the plaintiffs filed an action after their property was damaged by fire.  The defendants paid the plaintiffs’ claim relating to water, soot, and smoke damage, but denied the plaintiffs’ claim for expenses incurred in relocating tenants displaced by the fire.  In addition to alleging that the defendants breached the insurance policy contract, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants breached the duty of good faith and fair dealing.  The latter count was the subject of the defendants’ motion to strike.  Although there has been a split of authority among Superior Courts regarding the specificity of pleading required to support a claim of bad faith, the court continued the follow the majority of Superior Court decisions that require a plaintiff to plead specific allegations establishing a dishonest purpose or malice.  Here, the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to constitute bad faith within the context of a first party breach of contract action alleging wrongful denial of an insurance claim.  Although the parties in the case obviously disagreed regarding the policy requirements, the court found that this disagreement did not in and of itself demonstrate or support an inference that the defendants acted with a dishonest purpose, a sinister motive, or with an intent to defraud.  The motion to strike was granted.