Mailing is All Needed to Perfect Nonrenewal

Agent Not Required to Inform Insured of Nonrenewal

Some cases go on and on with trial decisions reversed, remanded, retried and appealed again. In Collins v. State Farm Ins. Co., — So.3d —-, 2015 WL 468970 (La.App. 4 Cir.), 2014-0419 (La.App. 4 Cir. 2/4/15) after eight years of litigation over damages resulting from Hurricane Katrina the insured ended up with nothing. His last attempt at recovery was to sue his agent for negligence because he did not inform the plaintiff that his policy had been non-renewed well before Katrina hit New Orleans.

The insured, Edward Collins, brought this suit against his insurer, State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (“State Farm”), and his insurance agent, Reggie Glass. From the trial court’s judgment granting Mr. Glass’ motion for summary judgment. Mr. Collins appeals.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In January 2000, Mr. Collins filed a claim under his homeowner’s policy with State Farm for roof damage to his property located at 7508 Lafourche Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. State Farm adjusted the claim and paid the damages due under the policy. In September 2004, Mr. Collins submitted another claim under his homeowner’s policy. During its investigation of this claim, State Farm discovered that Mr. Collins failed to repair his roof after he was paid for his 2000 claim. State Farm thus decided not to renew Mr. Collins’ homeowner’s policy when it expired on May 30, 2005. On April 27, 2005, State Farm sent a notice of nonrenewal to Mr. Collins and his mortgagees. Mr. Collins alleged that he never received a notice of nonrenewal.

On August 28, 2006, Mr. Collins sued State Farm and Mr. Glass. Collins alleged that State Farm violated its duties as an insurer by failing to adjust his claim and by denying coverage in bad faith. He alleged that the week before Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Glass, his insurance agent, informed him that he was fully covered with his flood and homeowner’s insurance policy.

In the deposition of Ms. Jackson, Mr. Glass’ assistant, she testified that the computer system that they used at the time, ECHO, would not display an insurance policy that had been cancelled or non-renewed for more than thirty days. Thus, she contended that Mr. Collins’ story that she turned the computer around and showed him his policy was impossible.

State Farm filed its motion for summary judgment. It contended that it mailed a notice of nonrenewal of the homeowner’s policy to Mr. Collins in compliance with Louisiana law; thus, it contended that it should be dismissed from the lawsuit. The trial court granted State Farm’s motion for summary judgment.

Louisiana law requires that statutes be applied as written and no further interpretation made in search of the legislature’s intent when the law is clear and unambiguous and its application does not lead to absurd consequences. In the present case, the statutes’ language is clear. The mailing of a notice of nonrenewal to the insured’s address, as listed on the policy, at least thirty days before the expiration of the policy, satisfies the burden placed upon the insurer. Noticeably absent from the statutes is language requiring the notice of nonrenewal be received in order for it to be effective.

State Farm presented the trial court with a Certificate of Mailing Listing authenticated by a team manager’s affidavit. The certificate bore the signature of State Farm Postal Operator Margaret Wynn and U.S. Postal Operator Larry Bailey, Jr., the two persons involved in the mailing of Mr. Collins’ nonrenewal notice. The certificate included the name and addresses for the notice recipients, as well as, copies of the notices. These documents indicated that Mr. Collins and his first and second mortgage holders were sent nonrenewal notices on April 27, 2005.

Once State Farm established mailing as required by the applicable statutes, the burden shifted to Mr. Collins. Since receipt of the nonrenewal notice is not required by law, the mere denial of receipt cannot create a genuine issue of material fact under these circumstances. Mr. Collins was unable to produce any evidence that the notice was not mailed.

DISCUSSION

The Louisiana Supreme Court held in the past that an insurance agent owes a duty of “reasonable diligence” to his customer. The duty of “reasonable diligence” is fulfilled when the agent procures the insurance requested. The statute is clear. The insurance agent has no additional or independent duty to inform the insured of the insurer’s decision not to renew. Thus, Mr. Glass had no duty to inform Mr. Collins of State Farm’s decision not to renew his homeowner’s insurance policy in September 2004 or thereafter.

Although Mr. Collins contends that Mr. Glass should have at least informed him of State Farm’s notice of nonrenewal when Mr. Collins’ visited his office in July 2005, Mr. Collins himself admitted, in his deposition, that he had never seen Mr. Glass before Hurricane Katrina, which occurred in August 2005.

ZALMA OPINION

It is almost a certainty that when a loss happens after a policy has been cancelled or non-renewed that the insured will claim that he did not receive the notice. That is the reason why Louisiana law, and that of most states, requires only that the insurer prove mailing. Mr. Collins was not an honorable insured. He took money from State Farm to repair his roof after a legitimate loss only to not use the money to repair it. As a result State Farm decided to non-renew. Mr. Collins ignored the notice of nonrenewal and litigated this case for eight years when, he should have known he had no coverage because he did not receive a bill to pay premium to renew. He gambled that he would not have a loss. Katrina proved his gamble was not a wise one.

ZALMA-INS-CONSULT© 2015 – Barry Zalma

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, has practiced law in California for more than 42 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer. He now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant and expert witness specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He also serves as an arbitrator or mediator for insurance related disputes.

He founded Zalma Insurance Consultants in 2001 and serves as its only consultant.

Look to National Underwriter Company for the new Zalma Insurance Claims Library, at www.nationalunderwriter.com/ZalmaLibrary. The new books are Mold Claims Coverage Guide, Construction Defects Coverage Guide and Insurance Claims: A Comprehensive Guide.

The American Bar Association, Tort & Insurance Practice Section has published Mr. Zalma’s book “The Insurance Fraud Deskbook” available at  http://shop.americanbar.org/eBus/Store/ProductDetails.aspx?productId=214624, or 800-285-2221 which is presently available.

Mr. Zalma e-book, “Zalma on California Claims Regulations – 2013″ explains in detail the reasons for the Regulations and how they are to be enforced; “Rescission of Insurance in California – 2013;” “Random Thoughts on Insurance” a collection of posts on this blog; “Zalma on Diminution in Value Damages – 2013,”“Zalma on Insurance,” “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose,”  “Arson for Profit”  and others that are available at www.zalma.com/zalmabooks.htm.

Mr. Zalma’s reports on World Risk and Insurance News’ web based television programing, http://wrin.tv  or at the bottom of the home page of his website at http://www.zalma.com.

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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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