The Washington Supreme Court Rules on the Impact of Agent’s Representations in Regard to a Certificate of Insurance

The Washington Supreme Court issued its decision in T-Mobile USA INC. v. Selective Insurance Company of America on October 10, 2019. The majority opinion, joined by seven of the nine justices, held that an agent with apparent authority can bind an insurance company through written representations, even if contrary to the policy.
This case reached the Washington Supreme Court through a certification from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit sought an answer as to whether an insurance company is bound by its agent’s written representation on a Certificate of Insurance that a company is an additional insured in a given policy. The Ninth Circuit had already ruled that the agent acted with apparent authority and the Certificates of Insurance included disclaimers stating the Certificates could not “amend, extend, or alter the coverage afforded by” the policy.
This case arose from the construction of a cell phone tower on the roof of a New York Building. T-Mobile Northeast (“T-Mobile NE”) hired a contractor for the project. The contract between them required the contractor to name T-Mobile NE as an additional insured and to provide annual Certificates of Insurance showing coverage. The contractor obtained a policy through Selective Insurance Company of America (“Selective”). T-Mobile NE became an additional insured under the policy based on the contract with the contractor. For the next seven years, Selective’s agent issued a series of Certificates of Insurance naming “T-Mobile USA, its subsidiaries and affiliates” as additional insureds. T-Mobile USA is a parent company for T-Mobile NE, but was not involved in the project or identified in the construction contract. Selective never objected to the agent’s issuance of the Certificates of insurance.
The owner of the rooftop sued the contractor and T-Mobile USA for damage that occurred during the construction. Both T-Mobile USA and the contractor tendered to Selective. However, Selective denied T-Mobile USA’s claim because T-Mobile USA was not an additional insured per the policy and construction contract. T-Mobile USA then sued Selective for coverage and defense. After having its claims dismissed on Summary Judgment, T-Mobile USA appealed. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit certified to the Washington Supreme Court the following question:

“Under Washington law, is an insurer bound by representations made by its authorized agent in a Certificate of insurance with respect to a party’s status as an additional insured under a policy issued by the insurer, when the Certificate includes language disclaiming its authority and ability to expand coverage?”

The Washington Supreme Court held that the Certificates of Insurance naming T-Mobile USA as an additional insured superseded the policy. The Court reasoned that the representations in the Certificates of Insurance were binding because they were made by an agent with apparent authority to bind Selective. The specific naming of T-Mobile USA as an additional insured controlled over general disclaimers. The Court also found Selective’s public policy arguments unpersuasive.
The two dissenting justices did not agree with the Court’s ruling because T-Mobile USA was not an insured under the terms of the Selective policy. They asserted that sophisticated business entities cannot reasonably rely on a Certificate of Insurance with clear disclaiming language.
This is an impactful decision regarding the use of Certificates of Insurance. Insurance companies in Washington must make sure Certificates of Insurance issued by agents accurately represent their insurance policies. Companies cannot rely on the general disclaimer language. The principle that an agent’s representations bind their employer may appear in other contexts too.
If you have any questions regarding the effect of this case or any other issues involving Washington insurance law, please contact our offices.

Supreme Court Holds there is no Cause of Action against Insurance Adjusters for Bad Faith or under the CPA based on Violation of the Statutory Duty of Good Faith (RCW 48.01.030)

A split Washington Supreme Court issued its decision in Keodalah v. Allstate on October 3, 2019. The majority opinion, joined by five of the nine justices, held that there is no cause of action against an employee insurance adjuster for three types of claims:
  1. Insurance Bad Faith based on alleged violation of RCW 48.01.030 by an adjuster;
  2. Consumer Protection Act per se claims based on alleged violations of WAC 284-30-330 (The Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act); and
  3. Consumer Protection Act per se claims based on alleged violation of RCW 48.01.030.
To recap, in Keodalah, the insured asserted a UIM claim following a motor vehicle accident.  Allstate took the position that the insured was 70% at fault for the accident, despite substantial evidence to the contrary. Following trial, a jury determined the insured had no fault for the accident and awarded damages well in excess of the coverage limits. The insured then filed a second lawsuit against Allstate and the adjuster, which included extra-contractual claims against the adjuster. The trial court then granted a motion to dismiss the extra-contractual claims against the adjuster. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the bad faith and CPA claims against the adjuster, finding that an adjuster’s alleged bad faith conduct could support those claims.
On review, the Supreme Court held that a bad faith claim based on the good faith insurance statute (RCW 48.01.030) was not available because the statute did not imply a cause of action under the applicable test. In particular, the Court explained that the statute was enacted to benefit the general public, as opposed to a certain class of individuals. It further reasoned that the legislature did not intend for the statute to form the basis of a civil action because, in part, doing so would also create a bad faith cause of action against insureds.

The Court then quickly dispensed with CPA claims against adjusters based on violations of WAC 284-30-330 because the express language of that regulation applies the standards contained therein to “insurers” only.

Finally, the majority stated that CPA claims against adjusters based on violations of RCW 48.01.030 are not cognizable because that statute does not imply a private right of action and prior case law (primarily, Tank v. State Farm) shows that CPA claims based on bad faith arise from the quasi-fiduciary relationship between insurers and insureds. The Court reasoned that, because there is no quasi-fiduciary relationship between adjusters and insureds, there is no CPA claim based on the alleged bad faith of an adjuster.

The dissenting opinion, joined by four justices, agreed that there is no cause of action against employee insurance adjusters for bad faith claims based on violation of RCW 48.01.030 and CPA claims based on violations of WAC 284-30-330.

However, the dissenting justices believed that there should be a CPA cause of action against adjusters based on violation of RCW 48.01.030. Their primary arguments were that a CPA claim based on violation of a statutory duty can exist, even when that statute does not imply a right of action, and the existence of a quasi-fiduciary relationship is not a requirement for a CPA claim in any context.

Most interestingly, the dissenting opinion further stated that a bad faith cause of action based purely on the common law should be available against an adjuster.[1]Whether an adjuster has a common law duty of good faith has never been addressed before by a Washington court. In analyzing whether it should recognize such a duty, the dissenting court noted that the majority of jurisdictions that have addressed the issue have found there is no such duty in common law. Nevertheless, the dissenting court believed it should follow the minority of states that do impose a common law duty on adjusters based on the similarities regarding the other principles of common law bad faith between Washington and those states. The dissent further stated that public policy, common sense, logic and justice support imposing a common law duty of good faith on adjusters because they are most directly responsible for how a claim is handled.  The dissenting court did note that this duty should be limited to knowing bad faith conduct within their control and that adjusters should not held responsible for improper policies imposed upon them by their employers.

This opinion provides both clarity and questions for insurance litigation moving forward. There is clearly no cause of action against adjusters based on violation of the good faith statute and any WACs expressly directed at insurers. However, whether an adjuster could face a cause of action for common law bad faith remains an open question of law in Washington. Unfortunately, the only source of Washington law addressing this issue is the dissenting opinion in this case.

If you have any questions regarding the effect of this case or any other issues involving Washington insurance law, do not hesitate to contact our offices.


[1] This type of claim was not addressed by the majority court apparently because it was not addressed by the Court of Appeals. The dissenting justices believe the majority court should have addressed this claim because it was part of the insured’s pleadings, briefing and arguments throughout this case.

No Coverage for Breach of Contract Claims Involving Faulty Construction or for Resulting Delay Claims in Oregon

Although not as liberal as the Washington courts, the Oregon courts have not necessarily been kind to liability insurers in coverage disputes arising out of construction defect claims. In a recent federal court ruling, however, the court has clearly held that construction defect claims resulting in breach of contract are not covered occurrences in Oregon. Moreover, the court held as a matter of law that claims for delay damage did not constitute property damage. The H.D.D. Company, Inc. v. Navigators Specialty Insurance Company, United States District Court for the District of Oregon, Case number 3:19-cv-00115-BR.

In the H.D.D. matter, H.D.D. was the subcontractor retained by SNC Lavalin Constructors to work on a natural transmission pipeline as part of the expansion of the underground natural gas reservoir. During the course of the project, a dispute arose as between H.D.D. and SNC. This dispute involved a retention of payments allegedly owed by SNC to H.D.D. and claims of alleged delay in completion of the subject work. As part of this dispute SNC demanded arbitration under the construction contract with H.D.D. H.D.D. then tendered the defense of the arbitration to Navigators who denied coverage on the basis that the claim did not involve an occurrence, that the claims did not involve property damage and that there were additional exclusionary exclusions which precluded coverage. H.D.D. subsequently sued Navigators. All parties to the action brought Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment for coverage issues.

The United States District Court for the District of Oregon denied H.D.D.’s Motion for Summary Judgment and found in favor of Navigators on its Motion. The court relied upon a long line of Oregon cases involving insurance coverage in the construction defect arena. The court concluded that Navigators had no duty to defend or indemnify H.D.D. H.D.D.’s primary arguments were that based upon the four corners of the Complaint there was a potential for coverage because the allegations could be read in such a way as to create a potential or plausible claim against H.D.D. Navigators argued that the claims set forth in the Complaint only asserted claims for breach of contract and delay which did not constitute an occurrence or property damage. The court agreed.

The court specifically held:

“A commercial general liability policy is not a warranty or performance bond for a contractor’s workmanship…. The risk being insured by such policies is the risk of tort liability for physical damages to others, and not contractual liability because the insured’s product is not at the quality for which the damaged person bargained…. When a Plaintiff alleges only breach of contract, there is not an “accident” within the meaning of the liability policy, and, therefore, there is not coverage under the policy.” (Internal citations omitted).

As a result, the court found that the alleged breach of contract in this case did not constitute an occurrence. In regard to the delay claims, the court also expressly held that such claims did not meet the definition of property damage. Despite the definition of property damage that includes loss of use language, the court still found that the loss of use has to arise from resulting covered property damage and not simply the insured’s defective work. The court expressly held that delay and increased construction costs that are the result of the defective component of the work performed by the insured does not constitute physical injury to, or loss of use of, tangible property.

The H.D.D. decision is a milestone decision in the Oregon courts in regard to both the issues of what constitutes an occurrence and what constitutes property damage under a liability policy.

Lether & Associates represented Navigators in the H.D.D.decision. We were pleased to be able to obtain this result and resolve this claim. If you would like to discuss this claim or other insurance disputes in the Northwest please feel free to contact our offices.

Defense Cost Recovery: The Federal Court Changes the Landscape in Washington

In 2013, the Washington State Supreme Court handed down the decision in National Surety Corp. v. Immunex that expanded defense cost exposure in Washington for liability insurers. Specifically, the Immunex court found that Washington liability insurers were not entitled to recovery of defense costs and fees which were incurred and paid for by a liability insurer even though there was no coverage for the loss. The court expressly found that even if the insurer reserved its rights as to reimbursement, there still is no right to recovery unless the liability policy expressly allowed for the recovery. National Surety Corp. v. Immunex, 176 Wn.2d 872, 888-889, 297 P.3d 688 (2013).

The Immunex decision caused significant concerns for liability insurers. It also provided a green light for insureds to tender claims where there was clearly no coverage with the expectation that the liability insurer would pay for the defense, (given Washington’s harsh penalties for denying a defense obligation), without any downside risk. Liability insurers, on the other hand, were forced to defend claims which were clearly not covered without any right to seek reimbursement even if it turned out that the claim was not covered. As a result, many insurers made it a practice to file declaratory judgment actions to have their defense obligations decided early on before the defense fees turned out to be more than the indemnity arguably owed under the policy. That option worked well, except of course when the insured files a motion for stay. If the stay is granted, the insurer could be stuck paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, in defense costs or be forced to try to settle out early and pay an uncovered claim in order to avoid the fees.

On April 17, 2019, the Honorable U.S. Federal Judge James Robart issued a decision in the case of Mass. Bay Ins. Co. v. Walflor Indus. There are several interesting components in regard to Judge Robart’s decision. First, the court addressed coverage under the Advertising Injury portion of a liability policy in a claim involving, in essence, a trademark/trade dress business dispute. These types of intellectual property claims have become more and more frequent in the highly competitive and sophisticated business environment of the Northwest. These claims are routinely tendered to liability insurers by insureds who look for coverage under the Coverage B section of the policy involving Advertising Injury. In states such as Washington, where the rules in regard to defense obligations are broad and the penalties are high, liability insurers have often picked up the defense of these claims.

Based upon the specific allegations and facts of the Massachusetts Bay case, the court found that there was no coverage under the policy in regard to defense or indemnity.

That is when the decision got very interesting. Massachusetts Bay Insurance Company had added an endorsement to their Washington insurance policies allowing for defense cost reimbursement. This Washington endorsement has been adopted by a number of insurers in a direct response to the Immunex decision. In Cross Motions for Summary Judgment, the policyholder requested that Judge Robart certify this specific question to the Washington Supreme Court. Judge Robart, who is never shy about making a tough decision, refused to certify the question. Rather, in a very clear and well written opinion, he addressed the issue of whether the policy language was void as against public policy or enforceable. Judge Robart found the language was not void and enforced the language as written. The court granted the insurer’s motion and held that the insurer was entitled to reimbursement of defense costs. A link to a copy of the decision is below.

Judge Robart’s decision was based primarily on the fact that the Immunex court clearly stated that the only reason it did not allow for reimbursement is because the policy in that case did not provide for such reimbursement. Since the policy in this Massachusetts Bay claim provided clear and unambiguous language allowing for reimbursement, the court enforced the policy language. What is unclear in the decision is whether the issue of ambiguity was ever clearly argued to the court. For example, it does not appear that there was any discussion in regard to whether costs and defense fees are in essence the same thing under Washington law in regard to this endorsement. What is clear, however, is that the court will allow insurers to potentially enforce their right to seek recovery of defense fees and costs. The decision also seems to suggest that there may have been a different result had the insurer not reserved its rights as to this issue.

From a practical standpoint, it is clear that insurers who do not have this Washington specific endorsement will in all likelihood consider adding this endorsement to their policies. Also, insurers who do have the language will need to be careful in reserving their rights as to this issue. They also should consider filing early declaratory judgment actions and have the courts review whether or not the insurer is entitled to reimbursement based upon their policy language and the Massachusetts Bay case. At this point, it is unclear whether the decision will be appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Regardless, this decision may have a chilling effect on insureds who are seeking coverage for defense where they know there is a potential that they may have to pay the money back.

Lether & Associates has addressed the Washington endorsement in a number of separate legal opinions provided to its clients. If you would like to discuss this endorsement with our office, please let us know.

Mass. Bay Ins. Co. v. Walflor Indus.

In 2013, the Washington State Supreme Court handed down the decision in National Surety Corp. v. Immunex that expanded defense cost exposure in Washington for liability insurers. Specifically, the Immunex court found that Washington liability insurers were not entitled to recovery of defense costs and fees which were incurred and paid for by a liability insurer even though there was no coverage for the loss. The court expressly found that even if the insurer reserved its rights as to reimbursement, there still is no right to recovery unless the liability policy expressly allowed for the recovery. National Surety Corp. v. Immunex, 176 Wn.2d 872, 888-889, 297 P.3d 688 (2013).

The Immunex decision caused significant concerns for liability insurers. It also provided a green light for insureds to tender claims where there was clearly no coverage with the expectation that the liability insurer would pay for the defense, (given Washington’s harsh penalties for denying a defense obligation), without any downside risk. Liability insurers, on the other hand, were forced to defend claims which were clearly not covered without any right to seek reimbursement even if it turned out that the claim was not covered. As a result, many insurers made it a practice to file declaratory judgment actions to have their defense obligations decided early on before the defense fees turned out to be more than the indemnity arguably owed under the policy. That option worked well, except of course when the insured files a motion for stay. If the stay is granted, the insurer could be stuck paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, in defense costs or be forced to try to settle out early and pay an uncovered claim in order to avoid the fees.

On April 17, 2019, the Honorable U.S. Federal Judge James Robart issued a decision in the case of Mass. Bay Ins. Co. v. Walflor Indus. There are several interesting components in regard to Judge Robart’s decision. First, the court addressed coverage under the Advertising Injury portion of a liability policy in a claim involving, in essence, a trademark/trade dress business dispute. These types of intellectual property claims have become more and more frequent in the highly competitive and sophisticated business environment of the Northwest. These claims are routinely tendered to liability insurers by insureds who look for coverage under the Coverage B section of the policy involving Advertising Injury. In states such as Washington, where the rules in regard to defense obligations are broad and the penalties are high, liability insurers have often picked up the defense of these claims.

Based upon the specific allegations and facts of the Massachusetts Bay case, the court found that there was no coverage under the policy in regard to defense or indemnity.

That is when the decision got very interesting. Massachusetts Bay Insurance Company had added an endorsement to their Washington insurance policies allowing for defense cost reimbursement. This Washington endorsement has been adopted by a number of insurers in a direct response to the Immunex decision. In Cross Motions for Summary Judgment, the policyholder requested that Judge Robart certify this specific question to the Washington Supreme Court. Judge Robart, who is never shy about making a tough decision, refused to certify the question. Rather, in a very clear and well written opinion, he addressed the issue of whether the policy language was void as against public policy or enforceable. Judge Robart found the language was not void and enforced the language as written. The court granted the insurer’s motion and held that the insurer was entitled to reimbursement of defense costs. A link to a copy of the decision is below.

Judge Robart’s decision was based primarily on the fact that the Immunex court clearly stated that the only reason it did not allow for reimbursement is because the policy in that case did not provide for such reimbursement. Since the policy in this Massachusetts Bay claim provided clear and unambiguous language allowing for reimbursement, the court enforced the policy language. What is unclear in the decision is whether the issue of ambiguity was ever clearly argued to the court. For example, it does not appear that there was any discussion in regard to whether costs and defense fees are in essence the same thing under Washington law in regard to this endorsement. What is clear, however, is that the court will allow insurers to potentially enforce their right to seek recovery of defense fees and costs. The decision also seems to suggest that there may have been a different result had the insurer not reserved its rights as to this issue.

From a practical standpoint, it is clear that insurers who do not have this Washington specific endorsement will in all likelihood consider adding this endorsement to their policies. Also, insurers who do have the language will need to be careful in reserving their rights as to this issue. They also should consider filing early declaratory judgment actions and have the courts review whether or not the insurer is entitled to reimbursement based upon their policy language and the Massachusetts Bay case. At this point, it is unclear whether the decision will be appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Regardless, this decision may have a chilling effect on insureds who are seeking coverage for defense where they know there is a potential that they may have to pay the money back.

Lether & Associates has addressed the Washington endorsement in a number of separate legal opinions provided to its clients. If you would like to discuss this endorsement with our office, please let us know.

Mass. Bay Ins. Co. v. Walflor Indus.

In 2013, the Washington State Supreme Court handed down the decision in National Surety Corp. v. Immunex that expanded defense cost exposure in Washington for liability insurers. Specifically, the Immunex court found that Washington liability insurers were not entitled to recovery of defense costs and fees which were incurred and paid for by a liability insurer even though there was no coverage for the loss. The court expressly found that even if the insurer reserved its rights as to reimbursement, there still is no right to recovery unless the liability policy expressly allowed for the recovery. National Surety Corp. v. Immunex, 176 Wn.2d 872, 888-889, 297 P.3d 688 (2013).

The Immunex decision caused significant concerns for liability insurers. It also provided a green light for insureds to tender claims where there was clearly no coverage with the expectation that the liability insurer would pay for the defense, (given Washington’s harsh penalties for denying a defense obligation), without any downside risk. Liability insurers, on the other hand, were forced to defend claims which were clearly not covered without any right to seek reimbursement even if it turned out that the claim was not covered. As a result, many insurers made it a practice to file declaratory judgment actions to have their defense obligations decided early on before the defense fees turned out to be more than the indemnity arguably owed under the policy. That option worked well, except of course when the insured files a motion for stay. If the stay is granted, the insurer could be stuck paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, in defense costs or be forced to try to settle out early and pay an uncovered claim in order to avoid the fees.

On April 17, 2019, the Honorable U.S. Federal Judge James Robart issued a decision in the case of Mass. Bay Ins. Co. v. Walflor Indus. There are several interesting components in regard to Judge Robart’s decision. First, the court addressed coverage under the Advertising Injury portion of a liability policy in a claim involving, in essence, a trademark/trade dress business dispute. These types of intellectual property claims have become more and more frequent in the highly competitive and sophisticated business environment of the Northwest. These claims are routinely tendered to liability insurers by insureds who look for coverage under the Coverage B section of the policy involving Advertising Injury. In states such as Washington, where the rules in regard to defense obligations are broad and the penalties are high, liability insurers have often picked up the defense of these claims.

Based upon the specific allegations and facts of the Massachusetts Bay case, the court found that there was no coverage under the policy in regard to defense or indemnity.

That is when the decision got very interesting. Massachusetts Bay Insurance Company had added an endorsement to their Washington insurance policies allowing for defense cost reimbursement. This Washington endorsement has been adopted by a number of insurers in a direct response to the Immunex decision. In Cross Motions for Summary Judgment, the policyholder requested that Judge Robart certify this specific question to the Washington Supreme Court. Judge Robart, who is never shy about making a tough decision, refused to certify the question. Rather, in a very clear and well written opinion, he addressed the issue of whether the policy language was void as against public policy or enforceable. Judge Robart found the language was not void and enforced the language as written. The court granted the insurer’s motion and held that the insurer was entitled to reimbursement of defense costs. A link to a copy of the decision is below.

Judge Robart’s decision was based primarily on the fact that the Immunex court clearly stated that the only reason it did not allow for reimbursement is because the policy in that case did not provide for such reimbursement. Since the policy in this Massachusetts Bay claim provided clear and unambiguous language allowing for reimbursement, the court enforced the policy language. What is unclear in the decision is whether the issue of ambiguity was ever clearly argued to the court. For example, it does not appear that there was any discussion in regard to whether costs and defense fees are in essence the same thing under Washington law in regard to this endorsement. What is clear, however, is that the court will allow insurers to potentially enforce their right to seek recovery of defense fees and costs. The decision also seems to suggest that there may have been a different result had the insurer not reserved its rights as to this issue.

From a practical standpoint, it is clear that insurers who do not have this Washington specific endorsement will in all likelihood consider adding this endorsement to their policies. Also, insurers who do have the language will need to be careful in reserving their rights as to this issue. They also should consider filing early declaratory judgment actions and have the courts review whether or not the insurer is entitled to reimbursement based upon their policy language and the Massachusetts Bay case. At this point, it is unclear whether the decision will be appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Regardless, this decision may have a chilling effect on insureds who are seeking coverage for defense where they know there is a potential that they may have to pay the money back.

Lether & Associates has addressed the Washington endorsement in a number of separate legal opinions provided to its clients. If you would like to discuss this endorsement with our office, please let us know.

Mass. Bay Ins. Co. v. Walflor Indus.

Washington Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Case That Allowed Insureds to Name Adjusters as Defendants in Bad Faith Actions

On February 26, 2019, the Washington Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Keodalah v. Allstate Ins. Co. and Tracey Smith.  In this case, the Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s dismissal of bad faith and Consumer Protection Act claims asserted directly against Tracey Smith, an adjuster for Allstate.

A link for the video recording of the oral argument is provided below:

https://www.tvw.org/watch/?eventID=2019021551

A link for the briefing filed with the Supreme Court is provided below:

https://www.courts.wa.gov/appellate_trial_courts/coaBriefs/index.cfm?fa=coabriefs.briefsByCase&courtId=A08

The issue to be addressed by the Supreme Court is whether the Keodalahs may plead a claim for bad faith and Consumer Protection Act violations directly against the Allstate adjuster, Tracey Smith. Since the Court of Appeals’ decision in Keodalah was published in March 2018, it has become common for insureds to name both the insurance company and the adjuster in lawsuits alleging bad faith claims handling.  Over the last 11 months, the ability to name the insured in a bad faith lawsuit has given rise to a multitude of new issues that must be addressed in these suits. These issues include questions about insurance counsel representing the adjuster as well as the ability to avoid federal court diversity jurisdiction by naming a local adjuster as a defendant in a lawsuit.

At the oral argument hearing, Allstate and Ms. Smith asserted that the only potentially available claim against an adjuster would be based on the general good faith statute, RCW 48.01.030, and would require the Court to hold that this statute provided for an implied right of action under Washington’s test for implying such an action.  They explained that an adjuster cannot be subject to a common law bad faith claim because there was no quasi-fiduciary relationship between an adjuster and insured. They then established that the good faith statute does not imply a right of action against an adjuster under the test.

In response, the insureds asserted that their claim was actually based on common law bad faith and the good faith statute provided the duty which applies to the adjuster for this claim.  They then stated that recognizing a bad faith claim against an adjuster was necessary to prevent the insurance company from avoiding bad faith liability by asserting that its adjuster’s offending conduct was outside the scope of the adjuster’s authority and employment duties with the insurance company.

We expect the Supreme Court to publish its decision in this case within the next few months.  The Supreme Court’s decision and its reasoning for reaching that decision will very likely have a substantial impact on how bad faith lawsuits are litigated for years to come.

If you have any questions about how the Keodalah case impacts the bad faith litigation landscape, please give us a call.

A Tale of Two Cases. The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Within roughly a two-week period over this past holiday season, the Federal District Courts for the Western District of Washington issued two dramatically different orders in very similar coverage disputes. In Northwest Pipe Company v. Travelers Property Casualty Company of America and The Phoenix Insurance Company (3:17-cv-05098-BHS), the Honorable Benjamin Settle of the Tacoma District granted Travelers’ summary judgment motion dismissing Northwest Pipe’s bad faith and Consumer Protection Act claims. This decision came 14 days after the Honorable John Coughenour of the Seattle District issued a summary judgment in favor of Osborne Construction Company against Zurich American Insurance Company. In the Osborne Construction Company v. Zurich American Insurance Company matter the court found Zurich had acted in bad faith (2:18-cv-00349-JCC).

The two cases presented very similar issues. A review of the facts of the cases, however, clearly establishes the right way to handle construction liability claims in Washington and the wrong way to handle those claims. In Northwest Pipe Company v. Travelers Property Casualty Company of America and The Phoenix Insurance Company, Travelers correctly identified a tender from the named insured, agreed to assign counsel, and issued a timely and thorough reservation of rights letter. Northwest Pipe argued that Travelers was obligated to pay for the insured’s personal counsel who had allegedly assisted in the defense of Northwest Pipe. Northwest Pipe also argued that the reservation of rights letter issued by Travelers was untimely. Taking the position that Travelers had denied the claim and had failed to investigate coverage in a reasonable manner, Northwest Pipe argued that Travelers was precluded from raising coverage defenses based upon the doctrine of coverage by estoppel. Judge Settle rejected this argument and denied Northwest Pipe’s motion and granted Travelers’ motion for summary judgment dismissing all extra-contractual claims.

The Court found that Travelers was not obligated to respond to the alleged claim for the insured’s personal counsel’s fees and that Travelers’ position in regard to that claim was reasonable. The Court also noted that the remedy of coverage by estoppel is a drastic remedy that would not have been applicable even if the court had found a question of fact in regard to the bad faith claim. In regard to the coverage by estoppel issue, the Court’s decision was consistent with the decision in Ledcor Indus. (USA), Inc. v. Mut. of Enumclaw Ins. Co., 150 Wn. App. 1, 10, 206 P.3d 1255, 1261 (2009), wherein the Court found that coverage by estoppel does not apply in all cases and that an insured still must establish actual damage for a bad faith claim.

In Osborne Construction Company v. Zurich American Insurance Company, Zurich denied the defense of an AI tender. Zurich took the position that the tender was unclear and that Osborne had failed to establish that it had entered into a contract with the named insured requiring the named insured to procure insurance. Judge Coughenour found that the tender was sufficient to place Zurich on notice and that Zurich failed to investigate the AI tender appropriately. As a result, Judge Coughenour found that Zurich had not only acted in bad faith but also found that coverage by estoppel applied as a matter of law.

The disparity between these two cases presents an excellent case study of how to properly investigate liability construction cases in Washington, particularly when it comes to a tender and the prompt issuance of a correct reservation of rights letter. In a similar manner, the Zurich decision shows the extreme dangers of an inappropriate coverage position or improper investigation.

The Federal Courts remain an excellent place for insurers to litigate coverage issues. However, as these cases show, the Courts will not tolerate improper claims handling. However, the Courts will reward those insurers who follow the rules.

Lether & Associates proudly represented Travelers in theNorthwest Pipe Company v. Travelers Property Casualty Company of America and The Phoenix Insurance Company matter. If you would like to discuss these cases or any issue involving Washington law, feel free to contact our offices.