Back in 2009, Parks wrote about the Spears v. TFMIC case and correctly cited it for the proposition that an insured must submit to an examination under oath upon request, and that a failure to do so can bar recovery on an insurance claim. Notably absent from the Spears opinion was any requirement of prejudice in order to avoid payment. However, the Spears opinion is muddied a bit by a prior decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Talley v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 223 F.3d 323 (6th Cir. 2000), in which the court held that an insurance company must prove prejudice in order to preclude recovery.
So what's the rule? Must an insurance company show prejudice to avoid payment of a claim on the basis of a refusal to submit to an EUO? In 2012, we almost got an answer to that very question in Farmers Mutual v. Atkins, 2012 Tenn. App. LEXIS 184 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012). In that case, Judge Stafford noted the potential conflict between Spears and Talley, and seemed primed to rule on this murky issue. But unfortunately the ruling wasn't meant to be. In short, the trial court apparently just noted the divergence of opinion on the issue and then granted an interlocutory appeal without ever ruling at all. Thus, the matter was not ripe for consideration by the Court of Appeals and was remanded.
This particular topic isn't particularly exciting, but nonetheless should be considered by both insurers and insureds when claims are denied for failure to submit to an EUO. Depending on how this issue is ultimately decided, an insured's failure to show up just might not put the proverbial "nail in the coffin" of the insured.
Practitioners should be aware that Tennessee courts generally apply the law of the state where an insurance policy was issued and delivered if there is no enforceable choice of law clause in the policy. Gov't. Employees Ins. Co. v. Bloodworth, 2007 Tenn. App. LEXIS 404 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007). So, for example, if a policy on a property in Nashville is issued and delivered to the owner at his home in California, the law of California would generally apply. However, the Bloodworth case cited above noted an exception that provides the an insurance policy is governed by the law of the principal location of the insured risk unless some other state has a more signficant relationship..
But what happens when there is a package policy that is delivered in California but covers properties in various states across the county? That's when it gets hairy, and there is authority going both ways. The best answer is probably found inThe Restatement (Second) of Conflicts, 193 cmt. f, which indicates that the court should treat such a case as if it involves multiple policies, each insuring its own individual risk. So if a house is located in state X were damaged by fire, then the law of State X would apply under this analysis.
This will probably come as no surprise to most but my feelings concerning the legislature's recent removal of the insurance industry from the protection of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act are pretty strong. I called every member of the legislature I knew, and some I didn't, in an attempt to stop the bill. But there is a very strong insurance lobby in this state, and the bill flew through both the House and the Senate with flying colors.
The saddest part about the new law is that it sends a clear signal that insurance companies are above the law, i.e., that ethical conduct is required of all businesses in this state except insurance companies who are free to act unfairly and deceptively without the threat of private recourse via the consumer protection statutes. A decision by an insurance company to deny a claim is a very calculated risk. Only a very small percentage of people whose claims have been denied will even pursue litigation. And without the protection of the Consumer Protection Act, things will only get worse. The consumer protection statutes helped even the playing field, and heightened the risk for insurance companies that wrongfully denied claims by exposing them to attorney's fees and treble damages in the event a judge decided that it intentionally acted unfairly or deceptively.
The new law only hurts the consumer and really created no benefit at all for the insurance companies out there that were already acting in a good faith fashion. On the other hand, it benefits greatly those insurance companies who treat their insureds unfairly. This was not an area of the law that needed reform. There was no risk of a runaway jury because the judge, not the jury, decided whether to award attorney's fees and treble damages under the Consumer Protection Act. But without those protections, insurance companies can freely fun roughshod over insureds with little recourse.
There is one positive about the new law, and that is that the language utilized in the new statute may have acknowledged the existence of a common law bad faith claim. More on that in future posts . . .