Business Law

APPELLATE LAW UPDATE MARCH 2024

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The following published decisions may be of interest to attorneys practicing insurance law:

CALIFORNIA COURT OF APPEAL

A notice of cancellation of an auto policy must go to all insureds identified on the declarations page, not only the “named insureds.” Molinar v. 21st Century Insurance (2024) __ Cal.App.5th __.

21st Century Insurance cancelled plaintiffs’ auto insurance policy for nonpayment of premiums by giving timely notice of cancellation to the two named insureds on the policy (a husband and wife) but not to the named insureds’ 21-year-old daughter, who was a “Rated Driver” identified on the declarations page. Four days after the policy was cancelled, the daughter caused a serious automobile accident. After the insurer denied coverage for the accident, the daughter and her parents sued. The trial court granted summary judgment for the insurer, concluding that the cancellation was effective because the governing statute (Insurance Code section 662) required the company to give notice to “the named insured,” which did not include the daughter.

The Court of Appeal (Fourth Dist, Div. One) reversed in a published opinion. Insurance Code section 662 requires notice of cancellation to be provided to all insureds covered by the policy and specifically named on the declarations page, not simply those identified under the heading “named insured.” This result was supported by the public policy of ensuring that drivers have the ability to protect themselves from becoming unknowingly uninsured. The court rejected the notion that it would be burdensome to notify all insureds named on the declarations page since the statute permits cancellation to be sent to them either at the address shown in the policy or their last known address–information the insurer should have.

NINTH CIRCUIT

Tribal courts have jurisdiction over insurance coverage disputes concerning policies issued specifically to cover tribal property. Lexington Insurance Co. v. Smith (2024) __F.4th__.

Tribal owned businesses sued various insurance companies in tribal court seeking insurance coverage for COVID-19 related business losses. The insurers moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that as nonmember, off-reservation companies, they were not subject to tribal jurisdiction. The tribal court found that it had jurisdiction. The insurance companies then filed a declaratory relief action in federal district court seeking a ruling that the tribal courts lacked jurisdiction. The district court granted summary judgment for the tribes.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed. While the insurers were not physically present on the tribal lands, they voluntarily did business with the tribes to cover properties located on tribal lands. By holding themselves out as a business partners to the tribes and doing business with the tribes to insure tribal property, the insurers made themselves subject to tribal jurisdiction. The court observed that insurers can easily insert forum selection clauses into their policies to avoid tribal jurisdiction if they so desire.

This e-Bulletin was prepared by Emily V. Cuatto, Certified Appellate Specialist and Partner of Horvitz & Levy LLP. Ms. Cuatto is a member of the Insurance Law Standing Committee of the Business Law Section of the California Lawyers Association.


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