It is Unwise to be a Chameleonic Litigant

It is Inappropriate to Argue a Win Was Wrong and a New Result is Required

Post 4829

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Defendant, Bankers Insurance Company (“Bankers Insurance”), moved to vacate the Panel Appraisal Award Amendment & Clarification (“Amended Award”) based on three alleged “significant errors” or “clear mistakes of fact” only to see an unfavorable response in St. Joseph Medical Clinic AMC v. Bankers Insurance Company, Civil Action No. 22-4521, United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana (June 17, 2024)

BACKGROUND

This case concerns an insurance coverage dispute arising from damages sustained during Hurricane Ida. At the parties’ request, an appraisal panel provided an award in September 2022 (the “Initial Award”). The Initial Award provided for $1,066,798.39 (RCV) under the policy’s Building coverage and $12,729.86 under the policy’s Business Property coverage. Bankers Insurance disagreed with the Initial Award’s inclusion of a $61,485.00 expense for “Rose Office Systems, Inc.” (“Rose Systems”) within the Building coverage. Bankers Insurance took the position in its correspondence that the Rose Systems expense should be categorized within the Extra Expense coverage, yet Bankers Insurance chose not to pursue this objection and filed an unconditional motion to confirm in May 2023.

The Honorable Donna Currault presiding, denied the motion. The Court identified the possibility of double counting as a potential significant error that required clarification by the panel. The matter was remanded for that clarification. The Court identified no other errors in the award.

The panel issued an Amended Award in January 2024. The Amended Award explained that the panel had included the Rose Systems expense within the Building coverage and provided its reasoning for doing so. The Amended Award further provided a complete calculation of damages for all the other coverages, including Extra Expense coverage ($0.00 awarded) and Business Income Loss ($270,409.96 awarded). The Amended Award confirms there was no double-counting.

Bankers Insurance waited until May 2024 to move to vacate based on the same alleged Rose Systems error of which it was aware when it filed its prior motion to confirm in October 2022.

ANALYSIS

Appraisal clauses are enforceable under Louisiana law. The burden of demonstrating that the award should not be confirmed must fall upon the party challenging it. Contractually specified appraisal awards are presumed accurate. Although appraisal awards are presumed correct, a court is not bound to confirm an award that contains clear mistakes of fact. When an award reflects accidental double-counting that duplicates certain items or categories, that is the type of clear error that cannot stand.

Bankers Insurance’s Belated Objection To The Panel’s Treatment Of The Rose Systems Expense Is Subject To Judicial Estoppel And Lacks Merit.

If Bankers Insurance were to prevail on its first argument and its second argument, the Rose Systems expense would be subject to a lower policy limit. Bankers Insurance’s first two arguments collapse under the weight of its prior litigation strategy.

Bankers Insurance moved to confirm the Initial Award, which concluded that the Rose Office Systems expense fell within the Building coverage.  Bankers Insurance made a strategy decision to abandon this objection when moving to confirm the Initial Award.

The USDC concluded that Bankers Insurance’s prior litigation conduct subjected it to judicial estoppel. Courts can invoke judicial estoppel to prevent a party from asserting a position in a legal proceeding that is inconsistent with a position taken in a previous proceeding.

Bankers Insurance asked the Court to rule that the Initial Award set the total amount of damages in this matter, including relative to an award of $1,046,255.76 under building coverage. In this motion Bankers Insurance asks the Court to vacate the Initial Award because, it contends, the Initial Award’s Building coverage determination was error. The two positions were irreconcilable.

Bankers Insurance’s Argument Relative To Lost Business Income Misstates The Panel’s Position And Lacks Merit.

Bankers Insurance’s argument does not refer to any actual calculation error-merely an alleged error in terminology-and the mischaracterization of the panel’s reasoning renders this argument confusing, at best.

CONCLUSION

Now, Bankers Insurance seeks to prevail by arguing that the Initial Appraisal suffered from a separate significant error, which has carried over into the Amended Appraisal and requires its vacatur. This attempt to “prevail, twice, on opposite theories,” renders Bankers Insurance the “quintessential ‘chameleonic litigant’ against whom judicial estoppel is usually appropriate.”

ZALMA OPINION

Appraisals often raise disputes over the finding of the appraisers. Bankers, although it disagreed with some findings of the appraisers, moved the court to affirm the award. The court sent the dispute back to the appraisers who submitted an amended award only for Bankers, to try to have the court apply the argument it originally abandoned. Judicial estoppel disposed of Bankers’ argument and the amended award was affirmed. Parties to appraisal awards should stick to their position and never change their position first accepted by the court only to ask it to do something different.

(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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