California Supreme Court decision holds insurers to policy obligations
News: 2015 Press Release
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A recent unanimous State Supreme Court decision (Fluor v. Superior Court (Hartford)) ensures policyholders are protected from insurers refusing to cover third-party liability claims when the insured transfers the insurance benefits after the events triggering coverage have occurred but before claims are fully resolved.
The court relied heavily on the amicus brief field by Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, which argued that once an insurer accepts premium for a risk and the covered events occur during the policy period, the insurer's obligation is fixed and it must defend the insured against subsequent third-party claims even if the insurance benefits are transferred to another entity before claims are fully resolved. This is codified in insurance code section 520, which dates back to 1872, and is a quintessential consumer protection that stands the test of time and offers important consumer protection by requiring insurance companies to deliver on their promise to pay claims that arise from events that occur during the policy period.
"The court made the right decision in finding that once an insurer accepts premium to cover certain risks, and those risks actually occur, the insurer's obligations are fixed regardless of any subsequent transfer of the insurance benefits," said Commissioner Jones. "The statue is clear. Insurers should not be able to avoid their obligations."
In the Fluor v. Superior Court (Hartford) case, the issue was whether an insurer can walk away from coverage obligations when the insured transfers the insurance benefit to another entity, after the events triggering the insurance coverage have already occurred. Here, Fluor transferred its insurance coverage to another company-after the events causing potential liability had occurred but before claims were filed. The court upheld the existing consumer protections long-codified in insurance code section 520 and required the insurer to meet its coverage obligations regardless of the transfer.
Link to court decision: http://bit.ly/1MS4ZNs
Example of transfer of insurance coverage benefit: A dry cleaner small business owner owns the building in which the dry cleaning business is located. He wants to move to a bigger building and sell his existing building to afford the move. The buyer is willing to buy the building, but only if the owner transfers the insurance policy providing pollution liability coverage for any events occurring during the policy period expiring prior to the date of sale. This ruling allows the dry cleaner to transfer the pollution liability coverage provided by the policy along with the building.
The California Department of Insurance, established in 1868, is the largest consumer protection agency in California. Insurers collect $289 billion in premiums annually in California. Since 2011 the California Department of Insurance received more than 1,000,000 calls from consumers and helped recover over $394 million in claims and premiums. Please visit the Department of Insurance web site at www.insurance.ca.gov. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800.927.HELP or 213.897.8921. Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD), please dial 800.482.4833.