Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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VT Halter Marine (VTHM), a shipbuilder, contracted to build a barge and a tug for a client. During construction, over a thousand steel flange plates were incorrectly bent due to the use of an improperly sized die, leading to thinning and cracking of the plates. The faulty plates were installed onto the vessels, and the cracking was discovered later. The cost of replacing and repairing the cracked flange plates amounted to approximately $3,300,000. VTHM submitted a claim to their insurer, Certain Underwriters of Lloyd’s of London (Underwriters), for the cracked flange plates.The Underwriters denied VTHM's claim, asserting that the policy excluded coverage for faulty workmanship and the cost of replacing or repairing improper or defective materials. VTHM contested the denial, leading to a lawsuit for breach of contract. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment in the trial court. The trial court granted Underwriters' motion for summary judgment, ruling that the policy unambiguously excluded coverage for faulty workmanship and the cost of repairing, replacing, or renewing any improper or defective materials.In the Supreme Court of Mississippi, VTHM appealed the trial court's decision, arguing that the flanges were part of the vessel and coverage for faulty workmanship exists if it results in cracking of the vessel. The Supreme Court, however, affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court found that the insurance policy unambiguously excluded the cost of replacing or repairing improper or defective materials. The court concluded that the faulty workmanship directly resulted in improper materials being installed, and the only resulting damage was to the improper materials themselves. Therefore, VTHM's claim for the costs of repairing and/or replacing the improper materials installed was not covered under the policy. View "VT Halter Marine, Inc. v. Certain Underwriters of Lloyd's of London" on Justia Law

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The case involves Century Aluminum Company and its subsidiaries (Century), and Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London (Lloyd's). Century uses river barges to transport alumina ore and other materials for its aluminum smelting operations. In 2017, the Army Corps of Engineers closed key locks on the Ohio River, causing Century to seek alternative transportation. Century filed a claim with Lloyd's, its maritime cargo insurance policy provider, for the unanticipated shipping expenses. While Lloyd's paid $1 million under the policy's Extra Expense Clause, it denied coverage for the rest of the claim.The case was first heard by the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Century sought a declaration that its denied claims were covered by the insurance policy and requested damages for Lloyd's alleged breach of contract among other violations of Kentucky insurance law. Lloyd's sought summary judgment, arguing that the policy did not cover the claims. The district court sided with Lloyd's.The appeal was heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Century argued that the policy's All Risks Clause, Risks Covered Clause, Shipping Expenses Clause, and Sue and Labour Clause required Lloyd's to cover the additional shipping expenses. The court rejected these arguments, affirming the district court's ruling. The court held that under the All Risks Clause and Risks Covered Clause, Century's alumina did not suffer any physical loss or damage. As for the Shipping Expenses Clause, it covered the risk of a failed delivery, not an untimely one. Lastly, under the Sue and Labour Clause, Century was required to mitigate Lloyd's exposure under the policy, but it did not obligate Lloyd's to pay anything for reducing losses that fall outside the policy. View "Century Aluminum Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London" on Justia Law

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In a maritime insurance dispute between Great Lakes Insurance, a German company, and Raiders Retreat Realty, a Pennsylvania company, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that choice-of-law provisions in maritime contracts are presumptively enforceable under federal maritime law, with certain narrow exceptions not applicable in this case.The dispute originated when Raiders Retreat Realty's boat ran aground, and Great Lakes Insurance denied coverage, alleging that Raiders breached the insurance contract by failing to maintain the boat’s fire-suppression system. The insurance contract contained a choice-of-law provision that selected New York law to govern future disputes. Raiders argued that Pennsylvania law, not New York law, should apply. The District Court ruled in favor of Great Lakes, finding that the choice-of-law provision was presumptively valid and enforceable under federal maritime law. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated this decision, holding that choice-of-law provisions must yield to the strong public policy of the state where the suit is brought.The Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit's decision, emphasizing the importance of uniformity and predictability in maritime law. The Court concluded that choice-of-law provisions allow maritime actors to avoid later disputes and the ensuing litigation and costs, thus promoting maritime commerce. Therefore, such provisions are presumptively enforceable under federal maritime law. The Court further clarified that exceptions to this rule exist but are narrow, and none of them applied in this case. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Raiders Retreat Realty Co." on Justia Law

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In this case, Defendant-Appellee Martin Andersson purchased an insurance policy for his vessel from Plaintiff-Appellant Great Lakes Insurance SE. The vessel ran aground off the coast of the Dominican Republic, and Great Lakes brought a declaratory judgment action to determine coverage under the policy. Andersson filed counterclaims for breach of contract and equitable estoppel. Great Lakes' motion for summary judgment was denied, and Andersson was granted partial summary judgment on his breach of contract claim. Great Lakes appealed, claiming the district court erred in refusing to apply the policy's definition of seaworthiness.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that under the absolute implied warranty of seaworthiness, the insured vessel must be seaworthy at the policy's inception, and if not, the policy is void. The court affirmed the district court's ruling, stating that Great Lakes' argument that the absolute implied warranty required the vessel to carry up-to-date charts for all geographic areas covered by the policy in order to be considered seaworthy was unsupported by admiralty case law and was unreasonable.Additionally, the court held that Great Lakes' argument that the express terms of the policy required updated paper charts for every location that could be navigated under the entirety of the policy coverage area was unsupported by the express language of the policy itself. The court found no precedent supporting the claim that updated paper charts for every location covered by the policy were required to be onboard the vessel at the inception of the policy. As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision in favor of Andersson. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Andersson" on Justia Law

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A yacht owned by Raiders ran aground. Raiders had insured the vessel with GLI, which denied coverage stating the yacht’s fire-extinguishing equipment had not been timely recertified or inspected notwithstanding that the vessel’s damage was not caused by fire. GLI sought a declaratory judgment that Raiders’ alleged failure to recertify or inspect its fire-suppression equipment rendered the policy void from its inception. Raiders responded with five counterclaims, including three extra-contractual counterclaims arising under Pennsylvania law for breach of fiduciary duty, insurance bad faith, and breach of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.Concluding the policy’s choice-of-law provision mandated the application of New York law and precluded Raiders’ Pennsylvania law-based counterclaims, the district court dismissed those claims. The court rejected Raiders’ argument that applying New York law would contravene Pennsylvania public policy, thereby making the choice-of-law provision unenforceable under Supreme Court precedent (Bremen (1972)), which held that under federal admiralty law a forum-selection provision is unenforceable “if enforcement would contravene a strong public policy of the forum in which suit is brought.” The Third Circuit vacated. Bremen’s framework extends to the choice-of-law provision at issue; the district court needed to consider whether Pennsylvania has a strong public policy that would be thwarted by applying New York law. View "Great Lakes Insurance SE v. Raiders Retreat Realty Co LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant XL Insurance America, Inc. (“XL”), as subrogee of Boh Bros. Construction Co., L.L.C. (“Boh Bros.”), challenged the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee Turn Services, L.L.C. (“Turn”).   On appeal, Turn devotes significant ink to its contention that Boh Bros.’s responsibility for repairing the dolphin does not equate to a proprietary interest in it.   The Ninth Circuit vacated and remanded. The court held that Robins Dry Dock is not implicated by the $1.2 million that XL paid Boh Bros. to cover the repairs. The court explained that for nearly a century, Robins Dry Dock & Repair Co. v. Flint, 275 U.S. 303 (1927), has limited plaintiffs’ ability to recover “purely economic claims . . . in a maritime negligence suit.”1 “[A]bsent physical injury to a proprietary interest”—or one of a few other limited exceptions—plaintiffs asserting such claims are out of luck. The court explained the “spectre of runaway recovery lies at the heart of the Robins Dry Dock rubric.”   Further, the court concluded that it is clear that the doctrine would be inapplicable here if XL had paid the money directly to Plains because Plains had a proprietary interest in the damaged dolphin. That the money passes through the hands of an intermediary—here, Boh Bros.—is irrelevant to the concerns animating Robins Dry Dock. View "XL Insurance America v. Turn Services" on Justia Law

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In 2011, during the course and scope of his employment as a shipwright, Claimant Robert Arlet slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk on the premises of his employer, Flagship Niagara League (Employer), sustaining injuries. Employer had obtained a Commercial Hull Policy from Acadia Insurance Company (Insurer). Through the policy, Insurer provided coverage for damages caused by the Brig Niagara and for Jones Act protection and indemnity coverage for the “seventeen (17) crewmembers” of the Brig Niagara. Employer had also at some point obtained workers’ compensation insurance from the State Workers’ Insurance Fund (SWIF). Insurer paid benefits to Claimant under its Commercial Hull Policy’s “maintenance and cure” provision. Claimant filed for workers’ compensation benefits. Employer asserted Claimant’s remedy was exclusively governed by the Jones Act. Employer also filed to join SWIF as an additional insurer in the event the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) was deemed to supply the applicable exclusive remedy, and Employer was found to be liable thereunder. SWIF denied coverage, alleging Employer’s policy was lapsed at the time of Claimant’s injury. Thereafter, Claimant filed an Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (UEGF) claim petition, asserting the fund’s liability in the event he prevailed, and Employer was deemed uncovered by SWIF and failed to pay. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) found that as a land-based employee, Claimant did not meet the definition of seaman under the Jones Act and was, therefore, entitled to pursue his workers’ compensation claim. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was one of first impression: the right of an insurer to subrogation under the WCA. The Supreme Court concluded Insurer’s Commercial Hull Policy did not cover Claimant, because Claimant was not a “seaman” or crew member. The WCA’s exclusive remedy applied, but Insurer was seeking subrogation for payment it made on a loss it did not cover. "[T]he 'no-coverage exception' to the general equitable rule precluding an insurer from pursuing subrogation against its insured comports with the purposes and public policy supporting the rule and hereby adopt it as the law of this Commonwealth. ... any equitable rule precluding an insurer from seeking subrogation against its insured is best tempered by the exception adopted herein today." View "Arlet v. WCAB (L&I)" on Justia Law

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The district court held on summary judgment that, under Eleventh Circuit precedent, federal maritime law requires strict compliance with captain and crew warranties in a marine insurance policy. The district court concluded that, because Ocean Reef breached those warranties, there was no coverage for the loss of its yacht under a policy issued by Travelers.The Eleventh Circuit applied Wilburn Boat Co. v. Firearm’s Fund Ins. Co., 348 U.S. 310, 316 (1955), and concluded that there does not exist entrenched federal maritime rules governing captain or crew warranties in this case. Therefore, Florida law applies to determine the effect of Ocean Reef's breaches. The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Travelers Property Casualty Company of America v. Ocean Reef Charters LLC" on Justia Law

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In this dispute between a boat owner and his insurance company, the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court in favor of the insurer, holding that the district court properly applied the doctrine of uberrimae fidei in this case.When Defendant applied for an insurance policy for his yacht from an entity later acquired by Plaintiff he failed to disclose that he had grounded a forty-foot yacht in Puerto Rico. Plaintiff later sought a declaratory judgment voiding the policy on the grounds that Defendant had failed to honor his duty of utmost good faith, known as uberrimae fidei in maritime law, in acquiring the policy and had therefore breached the warranty of truthfulness contained in the policy. The district court concluded that Plaintiff was entitled to void the policy. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court correctly concluded that the uberrimae fidei doctrine entitled Plaintiff to a declaration that the policy was void. View "QBE Seguros v. Morales-Vazquez" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff's boat was stolen, Geico denied coverage based on plaintiff's misrepresentation that he was in possession of the boat. On appeal, plaintiff argued that the district court erred in applying the doctrine of uberrimae fidei.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Geico and denial of plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment. The court held that plaintiff's misrepresentation voided his policy ab initio. Based on the record, the court concluded that plaintiff's initial policy, by its terms, expired on May 5, 2018, because he did not pay the required premium for the new policy period. Therefore, plaintiff's boat was uninsured between May 5, 2018, and when he first called Geico on May 25, 2018. Although plaintiff is correct that the doctrine of uberrimae fidei applies only when an insurer issues a policy, not when a policy is already in full force, his policy was not in full force on May 25th because it had expired. The court also concluded that plaintiff's statements were material to Geico's issuance of coverage on May 25, even if by renewal and backdating. Therefore, the district court properly applied the doctrine of uberrimae fidei and correctly held that plaintiff's renewal policy was void ab initio. View "Quintero v. Geico Marine Insurance Co." on Justia Law