Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law

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The Massachusetts Insurers Insolvency Fund (Fund) is statutorily authorized to recover from “high net worth insureds” certain amounts paid by the Fund “on behalf of” such insureds. There was no dispute that defendant Berkshire Bank met the definition of “high net worth insured.” The Fund brought this action seeking to recover from Berkshire workers’ compensation benefits the Fund had paid to a Berkshire employee. The superior court allowed Berkshire’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that any amounts paid by the Fund would not be “on behalf of” the insured employer, and therefore, recoupment was not available. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Fund was authorized to recoup the sums in question because they were paid by the Fund “on behalf of” Berkshire within the meaning of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 175D, 17(3). View "Massachusetts Insurers Insolvency Fund v. Berkshire Bank" on Justia Law

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Employee was severely injured while traveling abroad on a business trip. Employer had purchased two workers’ compensation policies from two different insurers, the Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania (ISOP) and Great Northern Insurance Company (Great Northern). Both policies provided primary coverage. Employee pursued a workers’ compensation claim. Employer gave notice of the claim only to ISOP. ISOP began making payments pursuant to the policy and defended the claim. When ISOP learned that Employer also had workers’ compensation coverage under its Great Northern policy, ISOP filed a complaint against Great Northern seeking a judgment declaring that the doctrine of equitable contribution required Great Northern to pay one-half of the past and future defense costs and indemnity payments related to Employer’s claim. A federal district court granted summary judgment for Great Northern. ISOP appealed, and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit certified a question to the Supreme Court. The Court answered that, where two primary workers’ compensation insurance policies provide coverage for the same loss arising from an injury to an employee, the insurance company that pays that loss has a right of equitable contribution from the coinsurer, regardless of whether the insured gives notice of the injury only to one insurer. View "Ins. Co. of State of Penn. v. Great N. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Two employees were injured in the course of their employment, collected workers’ compensation benefits and then reached settlement agreements with third parties including damages for their pain and suffering. The same insurer insured by employers and sought reimbursement from the employees’ recoveries. In one employee’s case, the superior court judge rejected a settlement agreement providing that the insurer would not have a lien on the damages for pain and suffering. In the second employee’s case, a superior court judge approved a settlement agreement similar to the agreement rejected by the judge in the first employee’s case. The Appeals Court determined that the employees’ awards for pain and suffering were exempt from the insurer’s liens. The Supreme Judicial Court combined the two cases for argument and held that an insurer’s lien does not extend to damages allocated to an employee’s pain and suffering. View "DiCarlo v. Suffolk Constr. Co., Inc. v. Angelini Plastering, Inc." on Justia Law

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Vittorio and Lydia Gentile were policyholders under a Massachusetts automobile insurance policy issued by Commerce Insurance Company. Their grandson, Vittorio Gentile, Jr. (Junior), an “excluded operator” under the policy, was operating one of the Gentiles’ vehicles covered by the policy when he caused an accident that injured Douglas and Joseph Homsis. Commerce filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment that the Gentiles’ violation of the operator exclusion form relieved it of the duty to pay the Homsises under the optional bodily injury provisions of the insurance contract. A superior court judge concluded that Commerce was relieved of its duty to pay the optional coverage for the Homsis’ injures because the Gentiles had violated their duty of “continuing representation” as to whether Junior was, in fact, operating their vehicles. The Appeals Court affirmed both on that basis and on the basis that the Gentiles had breached the insurance contract. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed on the ground that, by allowing Junior to operate their vehicle, the Gentiles committed a breach of a material term of the insurance contract. View "Commerce Ins. Co., Inc. v. Gentile" on Justia Law

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Joseph and Janice Boyle sued C&N Corporation. C&N held an insurance policy issued by Zurich American Insurance Company requiring that C&N provide notice to Zurich of any lawsuit brought against it. C&N did not notify Zurich about the lawsuit, but the Boyles’ counsel did. Zurich did not defend against the suit. Judgement by default was entered for the Boyles. The Boyles then sued Zurich, asserting the claims of C&N, which had assigned to the Boyles. A superior court judge ruled that Zurich breached its contractual duty to defend C&N. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) an insured’s failure to comply with a notice obligation in an insurance policy does not relieve the insurer of its duties under the policy unless the insurer demonstrates that it suffered prejudice as a result of the breach; and (2) the superior court judge did not err in determining that Zurich committed a breach of its contractual duty to defend C&N, as Zurich failed to show that it was prejudiced as a result of C&N’s failure to comply with the policy’s notice obligation in this case. View "Boyle v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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When a fire caused by NSTAR Electric and Gas Company employees damaged a building owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), two insurers paid the claims of the building’s tenants. The insurers then brought this complaint against NSTAR Electric Company and NSTAR Electric & Gas Company (collectively, NSTAR) seeking to recover for the claims paid. NSTAR moved for partial summary judgment, contending that, to the extent to which the insurers sought recovery for business interruption losses, the claims were barred by Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy Tariff No. 200A, filed with and approved by the Department of Public Utilities, and in effect when the explosion occurred. The tariff contained a limitation of liability clause that limited NSTAR from liability to nonresidential customers for special, indirect, or consequential damages resulting from the utility’s gross negligence. A judge of the superior court allowed NSTAR’s motion for partial summary judgment, concluding that a tariff filed with and approved by a regulatory agency may limit a public utility’s liability. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the limitation of liability clause in the tariff precluded Plaintiffs’ claims to recover for business interruption and other consequential or economic damages. View "Maryland Cas. Co. v. NSTAR Elec. Co." on Justia Law

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The personal injury protection (PIP) statute provides that an injured person claiming PIP benefits shall submit to physical examinations by “physicians” selected by the insurer as required to assist in determining amounts due. Plaintiff was injured in an accident while riding in a vehicle insured by Progressive Insurance Company (Progressive). Progressive engaged Examworks, Inc. to arrange an independent medical examination (IME) of Plaintiff. A licensed physical therapist, but not a licensed medical doctor under the Commonwealth’s physician statute, examined Plaintiff. Plaintiff filed this action against Examworks on behalf of himself and similarly situated persons, alleging invasion of privacy and unfair or deceptive practices. The district judge dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the word “physicians” in the PIP statute refers to both licensed medical doctors and also other appropriate licensed or registered health care practitioners; (2) the invasions of privacy associated with the examination in this case were justified; and (3) Defendant’s claim that Examworks engaged in deception by leading him to believe that the physical therapist was a licensed medical doctor as the PIP statute required failed because the PIP statute does not require an IME to be performed by a licensed medical doctor. View "Ortiz v. Examworks, Inc." on Justia Law
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Plaintiff sued its Insurer, alleging breach of contract and seeking declaratory relief, after the Insurer refused to defend or indemnify Plaintiff in connection with an environmental dispute. A superior court allowed Plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment on the Insurer’s duty to defend. Plaintiff then amended its complaint to assert a claim under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 11 arising out of the Insurer’s duty to defend. Thereafter, Plaintiff subsequently accepted reimbursement from the Insurer for its expenses in litigating and resolving the environmental matter. Insurer then sought summary judgment on the chapter 93A claim, arguing that its reimbursement of Plaintiff’s expenses precluded a finding that Plaintiff had suffered a loss of money or property, as required to establish a violation of chapter 93A section 11. The trial court denied summary judgment on the chapter 93A claim. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) chapter 93A does not require a showing of uncompensated loss or a prior judgment establishing the amount of damages as a prerequisite to recovery; and (2) therefore, neither Plaintiff’s acceptance of full reimbursement of its expenses nor the absence of a judgment establishing contract damages precluded Plaintiff from pursuing a claim under chapter 93A. View "Auto Flat Car Crushers, Inc. v. Hanover Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether an unpaid party who has brought an action for breach of contract against an automobile insurer and thereafter refused the insurer’s tender of personal injury protection (PIP) benefits due and payable, made prior to the entry of judgment, may proceed with the suit and obtain a judgment for those amounts, as well as its costs and attorney’s fees. Plaintiff here provided chiropractic services to a patient, who was injured while driving a vehicle insured by Defendant. Plaintiff sought payment from Defendant for its treatment of the patient, but Defendant determined it was liable for only a portion of Plaintiff’s submitted fees. Plaintiff then filed a complaint seeking, among other things, payment of the disputed amount plus costs and attorney’s fees pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, 34M. Before trial, Defendant sent Plaintiff a check for the disputed amount, but Plaintiff rejected the offer. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant, and the appellate division affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment in part, holding that an insurer’s late tender of PIP benefits, made after a claimant has filed suit and which the claimant denies to accept, does not entitle an insurer to summary judgment. View "Barron Chiropractic & Rehab., P.C. v. Norfolk & Dedham Group" on Justia Law
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After being billed by NEPT for medically necessary chiropractic services provided to the passenger of its insured, Liberty Mutual, claimed that the cost was unreasonably high and thus refused to pay the full amount invoiced. At trial, Liberty Mutual sought to introduce statistical evidence from a commercial database to show that NEPT's charges exceeded the 80th percentile of reported charges for the same procedures, pursuant to G.L. c. 233, 79B, which creates a limited exception to the hearsay rule for factual statements contained in commercial publications. The trial judge denied the motion, finding that the database was unreliable, based on a prior decision from the appellate court with respect to the database. The Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed. Based on the explicit language of section 79B, and the gatekeeper role of a trial judge, it is within a judge's discretion to consider the reliability of evidence offered pursuant to section 79B. View "N.E. Physical Therapy Plus, Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co." on Justia Law