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Policy provisions preclude coverage in settlement of class claims

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Because the “voluntary payment” and “legally obligated to pay” provisions precluded coverage, a trial court properly entered partial judgment in favor of an insurer of a distillery involved in a settlement over damages caused to nearby buildings by the distillation process.

Pernod Ricard USA operated the Seagram Lawrenceburg Distillery, which became embroiled in a class-action lawsuit with neighboring property owners, including William Klepper, over damages caused by ethanol released in the air, which made mold grow on building exteriors. The property owners also alleged nuisance, negligence, trespass and illegal dumping.

Pernod was insured by XL Insurance America and by ACE American Insurance under a commercial general liability policy. ACE’s policy included a “legally obligated to pay” provision and a “voluntary payment” provision, which said no insured should voluntarily make a payment, assume obligation or incur any expense without ACE’s consent.

ACE initially did not contribute to Pernod’s defense, but later reimbursed XL for costs. The property owners, XL and ACE entered into settlement negotiations, but ACE declined to contribute $1 million toward a settlement, offering only $250.000. At a second mediation attempt, ACE left before it was over. XL and Pernod agreed a $5.2 million judgment would be entered against the distillery, with Pernod contributing $1.2 million, XL contributing $1 million and ACE contributing the remaining $3 million under the insurance policy.

Eventually the case made it to a special master, who concluded the “legally obligated to pay” and “voluntary payment” defenses were available to ACE because it provided a defense under a reservation of rights. The special master also found Pernod breached its obligation by entering the agreed judgment without the consent of ACE. The trial court declined to enter a final judgment on all issues, only the six ruled on by the special master.

The Court of Appeals unanimously held that ACE did not abandon Pernod or breach the policy.

“ACE may rely on the Policy’s ‘voluntary payment’ and ‘legally obligated to pay’ provisions, and those provisions preclude coverage under the Policy. To hold otherwise, would, effectively require us to write the ‘voluntary payment’ and ‘legally obligated to pay’ provisions out of the Policy, which we cannot do. We recognize and understand the dissent’s concerns. We simply believe that the rationale in (American Family Mutual Insurance co. v. C.M.A. Mortgage Inc.), the fact that ACE did not abandon Pernod or breach the Policy, and the extended analysis we have provided guide us to this result,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote in William Klepper, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated v. Ace American Insurance Company, 15A05-1212-CC-645.

Judge Terry Crone disagreed with the majority that ACE may avoid the settlement agreement based on the “voluntary payment” and “legally obligated to pay” provisions.

“An insurer who defends an insured under a reservation of rights should not be able to use those policy provisions as both a shield and a sword,” he wrote. “Courts should not reward insurers for putting their insureds in a perilous position, nor should they penalize insureds for trying to protect themselves.”
 

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  1. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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