Diminution of Value Excluded

Public Policy Argument Fails for Lack of Evidence of Statute or Judicial Statement

Post 4716

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Following a car accident, Kenan Watkins (“Watkins”) filed a diminished value claim with his insurer, Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company (“Allstate”). Allstate denied his claim. The district court held that Allstate’s policy did not violate Mississippi law and that Watkins failed to state a plausible claim. Consequently, the district court granted Allstate’s motion to dismiss and Watkins appealed.

In Kenan Watkins, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated v. Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Company, No. 23-60141, United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit (January 12, 2024) the Fifth Circuit resolved the dispute.

BACKGROUND

Kimberly Jones (“Jones”) crashed her vehicle into Watkins’ 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe in Baldwyn, Mississippi. Watkins’ vehicle sustained substantial damage. Watkins had an insurance policy with Allstate that provided coverage for his 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe. Jones’ insurer, Safeway Insurance Company, paid $24,314.25 to Watkins for his damage claim. Watkins alleged that his car sustained an additional $13,545.00 in diminished value. Safeway Insurance Company offered the remaining $685.75 of Jones’ policy limit to Watkins. Because Jones’ policy limit did not cover the diminished value of Watkins’ vehicle, Watkins filed an uninsured motorist claim with his insurer, Allstate.

Allstate denied Watkins’ diminished value claim, relying upon a provision in its policy that excludes “any decrease in the property’s value, however measured, resulting from the loss and/or repair or replacement.” Watkins sued.

Specifically, Watkins alleged that Allstate’s automobile insurance policies impermissibly deny insurance coverage that is required by law without establishing which law required Allstate to pay for the diminished value of his truck.

The district court concluded that Watkins failed to plausibly allege that Jones’ vehicle was an “uninsured motor vehicle.” The district court also concluded that Allstate’s diminished value exclusion is valid under Mississippi law.

Because Watkins failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted the district court granted Allstate’s motion to dismiss with prejudice. An appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

In his Complaint, Watkins alleged that “[p]ursuant to Miss. Code. Ann. § 83-11-101(2), Kimberly Jones was underinsured, and [that he] is entitled to recover from the uninsured motorist coverage provided by the Policy.”

Watkins’ mere assertions, however, re insufficient to establish that Jones’ vehicle qualified as an “uninsured motor vehicle.” The Complaint only alleges that Jones was underinsured, which is a legal conclusion. No court will  accept legal conclusions as true. Thus, the district court correctly concluded that Watkins failed to make a plausible claim for relief because a reasonable inference that Allstate was liable for misconduct could not be drawn from the factual content in the Complaint and legal conclusions alone are never accepted as true.

The Fifth Circuit concluded that Allstate’s diminished value exclusion was valid under Mississippi law.

Watkins claim that the diminished value exclusion violates public policy failed because Watkins did not point to a pronouncement, either legislative or judicial, requiring that diminished value be a part of all automobile insurance policies.

Only an affirmative expression of an overriding public policy by the legislature or judiciary prompts a Court to rule that an insurance policy’s plain meaning does not control. Since neither the legislature nor the judiciary have pronounced that insurers must provide for payment of diminished value in all issued automobile policies the plain meaning of Allstate’s policy controls and Allstate’s diminished value exclusion is valid under Mississippi law.

ZALMA OPINION

Claims for diminished value of a vehicle after an accident were popular ten years ago because auto material damage policies did not deal with the issue. Insurers, like Allstate, recognized it had no intent to cover diminished value of a vehicle after an accident, did not charge a premium for the claim, and eventually wrote a clear and unambiguous exclusion to avoid paying for a loss for which it had not charged a premium. Absent some showing of a public policy requiring that coverage, the exclusion is enforceable.

(c) 2024 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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