Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court concluding that the insurance policies of three restaurants (Plaintiffs), which suffered reductions in revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting government restrictions on public gatherings, did not unambiguously cover Plaintiffs' losses, holding that there was no error.Plaintiffs brought a declaratory judgment action to determine the scope of their policies. The superior court granted judgment against Plaintiffs, finding that there was no "direct physical loss or damage" resulting from the COVID-19 virus. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs' claims were properly dismissed. View "Verveine Corp. v. Strathmore Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court's judge's denial of Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction, holding that the judge did not commit an abuse of discretion in denying Plaintiff's motion.Plaintiff, a professor at Harvard University, was indicted on two counts of making false statements to a government agency. Plaintiff made. Written request for indemnification and advance payment of his legal fees and expenses pursuant to Harvard's indemnification policy, which provides for the indemnification of qualified persons against liabilities and expenses incurred in connection with, inter alia, the defense of criminal proceedings the person may be threatened with by reason of serving in a "covered role." Harvard denied indemnification. Thereafter, Plaintiff brought this action asserting several claims with respect to the failure to provide indemnification. Plaintiff also filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction requiring Harvard to provide advancement of his legal fees and expenses. A superior court judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the motion judge did not abuse her discretion in concluding that Plaintiff did not establish a likelihood of success on the merits of his claims seeking advancement of fees and expenses. View "Lieber v. President & Fellows of Harvard College" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court entering summary judgment in favor of Joann Parker and dismissing this interpleader action, holding that summary judgment was properly allowed.When Sean Parker purchased a life insurance policy he named his then-wife, Dawn Diana-Parker, as the primary beneficiary and Joann, his mother, as alternative beneficiary. After Sean and Dawn divorced Sean did not amend his beneficiary designation. Following Sean's death, American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus, Sean's insurer, brought this interpleader action to determine whether Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 190B, 2-804, the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code's revocation of probate and nonprobate transfers by divorce provision, terminated Dawn's beneficiary status by operation of law. The judge held that section 2-804 applied to Sean's policy and granted summary judgment for Joann. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Dawn's arguments on appeal were unavailing. View "American Family Life Assurance Co. of Columbus v. Parker" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of a single justice denying Petitioner's petition for extraordinary relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 and under the doctrine of present execution, holding that Petitioner failed to demonstrate an appropriate occasion for exercise of the extraordinary power of general superintendence.Respondent filed a complaint against Petitioner, her insurer, alleging, among other things, that Petitioner violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D (count three). The district court granted summary judgment for Respondent on all counts except for count three. Petitioner brought this petition arguing that requiring it to go forward on count three compelled it to engage in frivolous litigation. The single justice denied relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that relief was not appropriate under the facts of this case. View "Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. Salaman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court remanded these consolidated actions against two insurance companies to the superior court for further proceedings, holding that inherent diminished value (IDV) damages, if adequately proved, are recoverable under part 4 of the standard Massachusetts automobile insurance policy, 2008 edition.The three plaintiffs in these actions each owned an automobile that was involved in a collision with an automobile owned or operated by a party insured by either of the two insurance company defendants. Defendants compensated Plaintiffs' for the cost to repair their automobiles to their precollision condition but did not pay Plaintiffs for alleged IDV damages to the vehicles. The judge granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment in part and affirmed in part, holding (1) the motion judge erred in allowing summary judgment with respect to Plaintiffs' claims of breach of contract; and (2) the motion judge properly granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Plaintiffs' unfair business practices claims. View "McGilloway v. Safety Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the superior court granting summary judgment in favor of Dorchester Mutual with respect to its duty to indemnify the parents of Timothy Krusell, holding that the allowance of summary judgment in favor of Dorchester Mutual was error.Timothy pushed Robert Haufler on a sidewalk, causing him to fall and sustain injuries. Haufler brought a personal injury action against the Krusells. Dorchester Mutual sought a declaratory judgment that it had no duty to indemnify the Krusells under a homeowners' insurance policy for Haufler's personal injury claims because Timothy's conduct was a form of "physical abuse" for which coverage was unavailable. A superior court judge concluded that coverage was precluded. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) the term "physical abuse," as used in the policy, was ambiguous, but a reasonable insured would interpret the term as not precluding coverage for Haufler's claim; and (2) there was no error in the allowance of summary judgment on so much of the Krusell's cross claim as asserted violations of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D. View "Dorchester Mutual Insurance Co. v. Krusell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court in this insurance dispute, holding that deaths caused by the improper use of a portable generator did not arise out of the uninsured premises as defined by an exclusion in the insurance policy.The Insurer in this case sold a homeowner's policy to Mark Wakelin for a property he owned in Braintree. The policy provided Wakelin protection against personal liability and property damage and contained an exclusion for bodily injury arising out of a premises owned by the insured but not insured under the policy. Wakelin owned a cabin without electrical power in Maine, which was uninsured. Two of Wakelin's children and two of their friends died from carbon monoxide poisoning when a portable generator Wakelin left at the cabin was improperly used. The Insurer initiated this action against Wakelin seeking a judgment declaring that coverage for the wrongful death claims against Wakelin was barred under the exclusion. The superior court denied the Insurer's motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the generator was not a condition of the uninsured premises, and therefore, the accident did not arise out of the uninsured premises, and the coverage exclusion at issue did not apply. View "Green Mountain Insurance Co. v. Wakelin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court judge's decision granting in part Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment against Insurer, holding that the standard fire insurance policy set by statute imposes several, rather than joint, rights and obligations on the insureds under the circumstances of this case and that Insurer's redrafting of the statutorily defined policy language was in violation of the statute.Plaintiff owned a home as a tenant in common with Kelly Pastrana, and the two were coinsureds on a homeowners' insurance policy. Pastrana intentionally set fire to the home. Despite Plaintiff's lack of involvement, Insurer denied Plaintiff's claim for coverage, relying on an intentional loss exclusion in the policy barring recovery when any coinsured intentionally causes a loss. The superior court concluded that the intentional loss exclusion in the policy violated the standard policy language mandated under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 175, 99, Twelfth, and allowed Plaintiff to recover only one-half of the coverage limit. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the policy not comply with the statute; and (2) the policy proceeds in this case were severable, and Plaintiff was entitled to only one-half of the proceeds. View "Aquino v. United Property & Casualty Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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In this case involving the indictments of Dr. Frank Stirlacci and his office manager, Jessica Miller, for violations of the Controlled Substances Act and for submitting false health care claims to insurance providers, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the superior court's judgment dismissing several of the indictments, holding that there was sufficient evidence to indict Shirlacci on twenty-six counts of improper prescribing and to indict both defendants on twenty of the twenty-two counts of submitting false health care claims.The charges against Defendants included twenty-six counts each of improper prescribing, twenty counts each of uttering a false prescription, and twenty-two charges each of submitting a false health care claim. The trial judge dismissed the indictments for improper prescribing and uttering false prescriptions and dismissed six of the indictments against each defendant for submitting false health care claims. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part, holding (1) the evidence was sufficient to indict Stirlacci on all counts of improper prescribing, but Miller's status as a nonpractitioner precluded her indictment on improper prescribing; (2) there was insufficient evidence to indict either defendant for uttering false prescriptions; and (3) there was sufficient evidence to indict both defendants on twenty counts of submitting false health care claims. View "Commonwealth v. Stirlacci" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the superior court allowing Insurer's motion for summary judgment and dismissing Plaintiffs' action claiming that Insurer failed to effectuate a prompt, fair, and equitable settlement, holding that consent-to-settle clauses in professional liability policies do not violate Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 176D, 3(9)(f).Insurer issued a professional liability policy to Insured that contained a consent-to-settle clause. Plaintiffs sued Insured for engineering design errors in their house, and Insured refused to consent to settle. Plaintiffs then brought this action under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A. The motion judge granted summary judgment in favor of Insured, concluding that the consent-to-settle clause in this case limited Insurer's ability to engage in further settlement practices with Plaintiffs once Insured refused to give Insurer consent to settle Plaintiffs' claims. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that where Insurer made good faith efforts to investigate the claim and encourage Insured to settle and where Insurer's shortcomings did not proximately cause harm to Plaintiffs the superior court did not err in allowing Insurer's motion for summary judgment. View "Rawan v. Continental Casualty Co." on Justia Law