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Texas Obligation to Defend: To Deviate or To not Deviate

Texas is among the many minority of states that let few, if any, deviations from the “eight-corners rule,” which supplies that an insurer’s obligation to defend have to be decided from the criticism and the coverage, with out regard to extrinsic proof or information. In Bitco Gen. Ins. Corp. v. Monroe Guar. Ins. Co., No. 19-51012, 2022 WL 1090800 (fifth Cir. Apr. 12, 2022) (“Bitco”), the Fifth Circuit Court docket of Appeals declined to think about extrinsic proof in figuring out Bitco’s obligation to defend and outlined when a courtroom making use of Texas regulation can deviate from the state’s strict eight-corners rule below the Monroe exception.

Bitco and Monroe issued industrial basic legal responsibility insurance policies to 5D Drilling & Pump Companies, Inc. for the years 2013-2014 and 2015-2016, respectively. 5D was sued after it allegedly did not correctly drill a properly in the summertime of 2014. Each insurers had been placed on discover. Bitco agreed to defend 5D and Monroe refused, citing two enterprise threat exclusions and asserting that the injury occurred outdoors the coverage interval. Bitco filed a declaratory motion in search of a declaration that Monroe additionally owed an obligation to defend and in search of to get better Monroe’s share of the protection prices. The District Court docket granted abstract judgment in Bitco’s favor primarily based on the allegations of the underlying criticism. Monroe appealed.

On attraction, Monroe relied on a stipulation between the events that the loss occurred in November 2014, outdoors of its coverage interval. Nevertheless, as a result of the stipulation was extrinsic to the coverage and underlying criticism, a problem arose as as to whether the extrinsic stipulation could possibly be thought of in figuring out the obligation to defend.

On attraction, the courtroom in Bitco famous that in Northfield Ins. Co. v. Loving Residence Care, Inc., 363 F.3d 523 (fifth Cir. 2004), the Fifth Circuit beforehand predicted that Texas regulation would acknowledge a restricted exception to the eight-corners rule the place the extrinsic proof goes solely to the query of protection and doesn’t overlap with the information of the underlying case. Citing to Northfield, the Fifth Circuit in Bitco licensed two essential inquiries to the Texas Supreme Court docket:

  1. Whether or not the exception in Northfield is permissible below Texas Regulation?
  2. When making use of such an exception, could a courtroom take into account extrinsic proof of the date of an prevalence when (1) it’s initially not possible to discern whether or not an obligation to defend probably exists from the eight-corners of the coverage and pleadings alone; (2) the date goes solely to the difficulty of protection and doesn’t overlap with the deserves of legal responsibility; and (3) the date doesn’t interact the reality or falsity of any information alleged within the third get together pleadings?[1]

In response, the Texas Supreme Court docket in Monroe laid out what’s now known as “the Monroe exception,” which supplies:

[I]f the underlying petition states a declare that would set off the obligation to defend, and the utility of the eight-corners rule, as a result of a niche within the plaintiff’s pleading, just isn’t determinative of whether or not protection exists, Texas regulation permits consideration of extrinsic proof supplied the proof (1) goes solely to a problem of protection and doesn’t overlap with the deserves of legal responsibility, (2) doesn’t contradict information alleged within the pleading, and (3) conclusively establishes the protection truth to be proved.[2]

The Monroe Court docket additionally seemed to its earlier determination in Richards v. State Farm Lloyds, 597 S.W. 3d 492 (Tex. 2020), the place the Court docket had beforehand addressed the usage of extrinsic proof and declined to allow a deviation from the eight corners rule. In Richards, the coverage required a protection if “a declare is made or a swimsuit is introduced towards an insured for damages due to bodily harm . . .. to which this protection applies.” The courtroom famous that “[w]hile some legal responsibility insurance policies comply with defend an insured even when the allegations of the lawsuit are ‘groundless, false, or fraudulent,’ the [] coverage at situation didn’t comprise that language.” Nonetheless, the insurer sought to depend on extrinsic proof to show that the allegations of the underlying criticism had been false. The courtroom rejected the insurer’s makes an attempt to depend on a “policy-language exception” in avoidance of the eight-corners rule, noting that the “presence or absence of a groundless-claims clause has hardly ever, if ever, been essential to Texas courts’ evaluation of the contractual obligation to defend,” and reiterated that the Court docket has “by no means held or steered that the eight-corners rule is contingent on a groundless-claims clause.”

On remand, the Fifth Circuit in Bitco declined to think about the stipulation and apply the newly established Monroe exception. The stipulation would impermissibly overlap with figuring out the deserves of legal responsibility as a result of “[a] dispute as to when property injury happens additionally implicates whether or not property injury occurred on that date, forcing the insured to admit damages at a specific date to invoke protection, when its place could very properly be that no injury was sustained in any respect.”[3]

Bitco demonstrates that courts making use of Texas regulation are nonetheless certain by strict requirements as to when they might allow extrinsic proof in figuring out the obligation to defend. To this point, Texas permits extrinsic proof in only a few cases. Along with the Monroe exception, the Texas Supreme Court docket additionally just lately accepted a “fraud” exception. In Loya Ins. Co. v. Avalos, 610 S.W.3d 878, 881 (Tex. 2020), reh’g denied (Oct. 2, 2020), the courtroom held that “[g]iven the contractual foundations of the eight-corners rule, we conclude it doesn’t bar courts from contemplating such extrinsic proof relating to collusive fraud by the insured in figuring out the insurer’s obligation to defend.”

[1] Bitco Gen. Ins. Corp. v. Monroe Guar. Ins. Co., 846 F. App’x 248, 252 (fifth Cir. 2021), licensed query accepted (Mar. 19, 2021), licensed query answered, 640 S.W.3d 195 (Tex. 2022).

[2] Monroe Guar. Ins. Co. v. BITCO Gen. Ins. Corp., 640 S.W.3d 195, 199 (Tex. 2022) (“Monroe”). The Monroe exception was just lately utilized in Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Tex. Political Subdivisions Prop./Cas. Joint Self Ins. Fund, No. 20-0033, 2022 WL 420491 (Tex. 2022).

[3] Bitco, 2022 WL 1090800, at *3 (citing Monroe, 640 S.W.3d at 203) (emphasis in authentic).



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