1 Hanna & Plaut, L.L.P. Attorneys at Law 106 E. 6th Street, Suite 600 Austin, Texas Phone (512) Fax (512) INSURANCE LAW FOR AGENTS, ADJUSTERS AND ATTORNEYS DECEMBER 2-3, 1999, DALLAS DECEMBER 9-10, 1999, HOUSTON David L. Plaut BAD FAITH LITIGATION UPDATE Table of Contents I. SCOPE OF PAPER II. ASSESSING THE REASONABLENESS OF AN INSURER S DELAY OR DENIAL OF A CLAIM: AN ANALYTIC CONUNDRUM A. Arnold/Aranda and the No Reasonable Basis Standard B. Lyons Reiterates the No Reasonable Basis Standard C. Dominguez Follows Lyons Approach: Some Evidence of Coverage Not Evidence of Bad Faith D. Moriel Follows Lyons and Articulates a Bona Fide Dispute E. Implications of Lyons, Dominguez, Moriel, and the Bona Fide Dispute Standard III. GILES MODIFIES THE LYONS/DOMINGUEZ BAD FAITH STANDARD IV. NICOLAU AND EVIDENCE THAT DESTROYS A BONA FIDE DISPUTE A. Underlying Facts B. Procedural Overview C. Supreme Court Decision D. Some Evidence of a Lack of Objectivity? V. WILLIAMS REAFFIRMS THE BONA FIDE DISPUTE RULE VI. STATE FARM v. SIMMONS: BAD FAITH LIABILITY FOR DEFICIENT
2 INVESTIGATIONS? A. Overview B. Deficient, Outcome-Oriented Investigation? VII. PROVIDENT AMERICAN APPLIES PRE-GILES NO REASONABLE BASIS STANDARD VIII. BONA FIDE DISPUTE DEFEATS COMMON-LAW AND STATUTORY CLAIMS IX. INNOCENT CO-INSURED CAN RECOVER INSURANCE PROCEEDS DESPITE ARSON X. RECENT BAD FAITH APPELLATE DECISIONS A. Evry v. USAA: a Recent Bad Faith Arson/Insurance Case B. Franklin v. Lumbermens: Bona Fide Dispute as a Matter of Law? C. Wallis Places Burden To Allocate on Insureds D. Oram Requires Apportionment of Damages E. Johns and Conflicts Between Expert Engineers F. Pena Resolves Bad Faith and Limitations Issues in Insured s Favor G. McGuinness and Limitations in Foundation Cases H. Keenan Allows Recovery for Access Costs Despite Contractor s Negligence I. Ferris Also Implicitly Recognizes Coverage for Access Costs J. No Bad Faith on Plumbing Repair Claim in McConnell K. Bid Shopping an Insurance Code Violation in Lambert L. Inherent Vice/Settlement Exclusions Preclude Claims in Withrow M. Engineering Firm Not Liable for Conducting Appraisal N. No Bad Faith Cause of Action Against Geotechnical Engineer XI. NO HARM, NO FOUL? REPUBLIC INSURANCE V. STOKER A. An Overview of Republic Insurance v. Stoker B. Stoker Holds No Coverage Then Generally No Bad Faith Claims C. Implications of Stoker XII. GARRISON HOLDS INSURANCE COMPANY EMPLOYEES MAY HAVE STATUTORY LIABILITY A. Legislative History Important to Resolution of Garrison B. Dissenting Opinion Would Have Followed Federal Precedent C. Valid Distinction Between Employee/Agents and Employee/Adjusters D. Griggs v. State Farm Finds Fraudulent Joinder XIII. DAUBERT/ROBINSON AND GATEKEEPING IN BAD FAITH CASES A. Broders and the School of Practice Test for Expert Qualification B. The Daubert/Robinson Test of Reliability
3 I. SCOPE OF THE PAPER BAD FAITH LITIGATION UPDATE This paper addresses extra-contractual litigation in Texas and reviews the Texas Supreme Court s recently promulgated standards for assessing the common-law and statutory bad faith causes of action. In July of 1997, the Texas Supreme Court revisited the question of how to define common law bad faith in Texas. Revising the negative phrasing of the Arnold/Aranda no reasonable basis standard, the Texas Supreme Court s recent decisions -- Universe Life v. Giles, State Farm Lloyds v. Nicolau and U.S. Fire v. Williams -- hold that an insurer will be liable [for common law bad faith] if the insurer knew or should have known that it was reasonably clear that the claim was covered. Although Giles, Nicolau, and Williams provide a modification of the standard for common law bad faith, these decisions specifically cite and reiterate the decisions of the Texas Supreme Court in Lyons, Dominguez, and Moriel. The new decisions do not jettison the standards for bad faith articulated in Lyons, Dominguez, and Moriel but frame the liability standard in positive terms. The Court revisited some of these issues in the Provident American case discussed below. The paper also addresses the Texas Supreme Court decisions in Simmons and Garrison Contractors. Simmons and Garrison Contractors continued a pendulum swing away from insurer-friendly decisions. The analysis in each of these cases is significant. Simmons potentially allows bad faith liability for outcome oriented investigations. Garrison affords insureds a private right of action under Article of the Insurance Code against insurance agents and adjusters for misrepresentations made within the scope of their employment or agency. Garrison will increase the practice of naming insurance company employees, agents, and adjusters as party-defendants whenever possible to defeat federal diversity jurisdiction. These decisions, along with Republic Insurance v. Stoker and related cases, are discussed below. In addition to reviewing the Texas Supreme Court s recent bad faith decisions, this paper also provides an update of other noteworthy appellate decisions in the arson, foundation, and worker s compensation contexts, and concludes with a brief review of Rule 702 and Daubert/Robinson issues of expert qualification and the gatekeeping function in bad faith cases. II. ASSESSING THE REASONABLENESS OF AN INSURER S DELAY OR DENIAL OF A CLAIM: AN ANALYTIC CONUNDRUM A. Arnold/Aranda and the No Reasonable Basis Standard The Texas Supreme Court first recognized an insurer s tort duty of good faith and fair dealing to its insured in Arnold v. National County Mutual Fire Insurance Company, 725 S.W.2d 165 (Tex. 1987), stating [a] cause of action for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing is stated when it is alleged that there is no reasonable basis for denial of a claim or delay in payment or a failure on the part of the insurer to determine whether there is any reasonable basis for the denial or delay. Id. at 167 (emphasis added). The Arnold court emphasized that the duty of good faith and fair dealing arises
4 from the special relationship between the insurer and the insured resulting from the insurer s disproportionately favorable bargaining posture in the claims handling process. A year later, in Aranda v. Insurance Company of North America, 748 S.W.2d 210 (Tex. 1988) the supreme court held that to establish an insurer s liability for the tort of bad faith the insured must prove: (1) the absence of a reasonable basis for denying or delaying payment of the benefits of the policy and (2) that the carrier knew or should have known that there was no reasonable basis for denying the claim or delaying payment of the claim. The Aranda court also distinguished the insurer s liability under the contract of insurance from the insurer s liability for the tort of bad faith. [C]arriers, the supreme court emphasized, will maintain the right to deny invalid or questionable claims and will not be subject to [bad faith] liability for an erroneous denial of a claim. Id. at 213. In other words, if the insurer has denied what is later determined to be a valid claim under the contract of insurance, the insurer must respond in actual damages up to the policy limits. But as long as the insurer has a reasonable basis to deny or delay payment of the claim, even if that basis is eventually determined by the factfinder to be erroneous, the insurer is not liable for the tort of bad faith. In the wake of Aranda, Texas courts of appeals struggled with two competing approaches to assessment of the reasonableness of an insurer s denial of a claim. The first approach -- comprehensively reviewed in State Farm Lloyds v. Polasek, 847 S.W.2d 279 (Tex. App.--San Antonio 1992, writ denied) -- emphasized that, as a matter of law, an insurer cannot be liable for bad faith in the denial of a claim as long as there is some evidence reasonably supporting the denial of the claim. The Polasek decision embraced a bona fide controversy standard that conceivably requires summary judgment for an insurer on bad faith claims whenever there is some evidence that the decision to deny coverage was reasonable. In State Farm Fire & Casualty Company v. Simmons, 857 S.W.2d 126 (Tex. App.--Beaumont 1993), aff d in part, rev d in part, 963 S.W.2d 42 (Tex. 1998), the Beaumont Court of Appeals criticized the bona fide controversy standard for insulating insurers from bad faith liability and blasted the Polasek court for its allegedly frightening abrogation of the common law. Courts following the second approach to assessment of an insurer s reasonableness in denying a claim have left the question for the jury when there is some evidence of bad faith. See, e.g., St. Paul Ins. Co. v. Rakkar, 838 S.W.2d 622, 626 (Tex. App.--Dallas 1992, writ denied) (finding that submission of bad faith to the jury was proper because the evidence raise[d] fact questions concerning both the reasonableness of [the insurer s] reliance on its investigators and whether [the insurer] actually relied on those investigations ) (emphasis added). Although the Beaumont Court of Appeals in Simmons employed this latter approach in assessing the question of reasonableness, the court went far beyond any previous decision with its assertion that the appropriate inquiry in a bad faith case is whether the insurer fulfill[ed] its duty to its insured by pursuing a thorough, systematic, objective, fair, and honest investigation of the claim prior to denying such claim. Id. at 136. B. Lyons Reiterates No Reasonable Basis Standard
5 The insurance claim in Lyons v. Millers Casualty Insurance Company of Texas, 866 S.W.2d 597 (Tex. 1993) arose after a windstorm. The claimant, Ms. Golda Lyons, submitted a claim to Millers Casualty Company, her homeowner s insurance carrier, for damage to the brick veneer and outside back staircase of her house. Following an investigation, Millers denied Lyons claim. Lyons sued for breach of contract and of the duty of good faith and fair dealing and asserted that the damage to her house was caused by the windstorm, a covered peril. Millers, however, claimed that the damage was caused by settling of the foundation, an excluded peril. Lyons, 866 S.W.2d at 598. Ms. Lyons sued Millers for common-law bad faith and statutory Insurance Code/DTPA violations. A jury found that one-quarter of the structural damage to the house was attributable to the windstorm, three-quarters was attributable to settlement of the structure, and that $25,000 was the reasonable cost to repair the residence. The jury further found that Millers violated the Insurance Code and DTPA, and breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing in failing to pay Lyons claim, awarding an additional $75,000 in damages for those claims, plus exemplary damages of $8,700. The trial court rendered judgment on the verdict for $89,950, plus pre-judgment interest and attorneys fees. Id. In its review, the court of appeals determined that there was no evidence of a breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing or a violation of the DTPA; it therefore rendered a take-nothing judgment on those claims. Lyons complained on appeal that the court of appeals conclusion that no evidence supported the jury s finding of bad faith was erroneous. The Texas Supreme Court affirmed, however, finding that there was no evidence to support the bad faith judgment for Lyons under the substantive test we adopted in Aranda.... Lyons, 866 S.W.2d at 598. Noting the difficulty Texas courts of appeals were having in reconciling the insurer s substantive rights under the Aranda test with the traditional statement of the no evidence standard of review, the Lyons court held that: The evidence presented, viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, must be such as to permit the logical inference that the insurer had no reasonable basis to delay or deny payment of the claim, and that it knew or should have known it had no reasonable basis for its actions. See Pittman v. Baladez, 312 S.W.2d 210, 216 (Tex.1958). The evidence must relate to the tort issue of no reasonable basis for denial or delay in payment of a claim, not just to the contract issue of coverage. Lyons, 866 S.W.2d at 600. Emphasizing that this approach is nothing more than a particularized application of our traditional no evidence review, the Lyons court asserted that [t]his focus on the evidence and its relation to the elements of bad faith is necessary to maintain the distinction between a contract claim on the policy, and a claim of bad faith delay or denial of that claim.... Id. C. Dominguez Follows the Lyons Approach: Some Evidence Coverage Not Evidence of Bad Faith
6 In National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh v. Dominguez, 873 S.W.2d 373 (Tex. 1994), the Texas Supreme Court followed the Lyons standards for assessing the alleged bad faith of an insurer in denying or delaying a claim. The case arose in the workers compensation context and involved allegations that the compensation carrier breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing. The worker alleged that his back injuries were work related but the workers compensation insurer controverted the claim. The doctor who had initially seen the claimant diagnosed his back pain as stemming from a degenerative condition. Additionally, the insurer learned from his employer that the claimant had never reported the injury as work related and had made express representations to the employer s group health carrier that his injury was not work related. A second physician, however, gave his opinion that the claimant s condition was work related. Id. at After an IAB award of $6,559.48, the claimant appealed to district court. After a jury trial of the bad faith suit, the trial court entered judgment for $322, in the claimant s favor as compensatory and exemplary damages for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. Following its Lyons decision, the Texas Supreme Court in Dominguez reversed and rendered that the insured take nothing. Despite conflicting medical testimony about whether the insured s injury was work related, the Dominguez court found no evidence that the insurer had breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing. Id. at 374. In finding that the insurer had not breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing, the Dominguez court reiterated the dictates of Lyons and Aranda. Dominguez, 873 S.W.2d at 376 (holding that [a] claimant who alleges a breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing must establish (1) the absence of a reasonable basis for denying or delaying payment of the benefits of the policy, and (2) that the carrier knew or should have known that there was not a reasonable basis for denying the claim or delaying payment of the claim). The Dominguez court also noted that [t]he first element of the Aranda test, the absence of a reasonable basis for denying the claim, requires an objective determination of whether a reasonable insurer under similar circumstances would have delayed or denied the claimant s benefits. Dominguez, 873 S.W.2d at 376. The second element that the carrier knew or should have known that there was no reasonable basis for denial -- the Dominguez court characterized as an attempt to balance the right of an insurer to reject an invalid claim and the duty of the carrier to investigate and pay compensable claims. Id. (citing Aranda, 748 S.W.2d at 213). Dominguez echoed decisions holding that insurance claimants had the burden of proving a negative proposition, the absence of a reasonable basis for denying a claim, of which the carrier knew or should have known. Dominguez, 873 S.W.2d at 376. Moreover, Dominguez emphasized that under Lyons, evidence of insurance coverage alone does not go to... absence of a reasonable basis for denial of the claim and held that some evidence of coverage is not evidence of an absence of a reasonable basis for denying a claim. Dominguez, 873 S.W.2d at The only evidence offered by Dominguez to establish bad faith was a letter sent by a doctor to Dominguez attorney, which stated the doctor s opinion that the injury was work related. Dominguez, 873
7 S.W.2d at This evidence did not relate, as Lyons requires, to the tort issue of no reasonable basis for denial of a claim, but only to the contract issue of coverage. While noting that the letter was some evidence of coverage, the Texas Supreme Court held that it was not evidence of an absence of a reasonable basis for denying the claim. D. Moriel Follows Lyons and Articulates a Bona Fide Dispute Standard In Transportation Insurance Company v. Moriel, 879 S.W.2d 10 (1994) -- the Texas Supreme Court reiterated the Lyons standards for assessing bad faith, and made specific reference to A bona fide dispute test for liability. Moriel involved a workers compensation claim and subsequent allegations that the compensation carrier breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing. The worker alleged that his impotency following an accident was a work related injury but the workers compensation insurer delayed payment for two years before finally paying the claim. The claim in this case arose when a stack of counter tops fell on Juan Moriel, an employee of a building materials company in El Paso. Moriel suffered three broken ribs, a broken wrist, and a fractured pelvis. As a result, he was hospitalized for twelve days. Moriel s hospitalization costs were paid by his employer s workers compensation carrier. Moriel, 879 S.W.2d at 13. A few days after leaving the hospital, Moriel had some loss of movement in one leg. After failure of a hormone enhancement to remedy the impotency problem and further testing in El Paso, Moriel s doctor recommended that he undergo additional testing at a hospital in Houston. Id. He requested that his workers compensation insurer authorize payments for the tests in Houston. After a number of letters back and forth and accompanying delay, the insurer agreed to pay for Moriel s testing but not his travel. Id. This authorization process caused a ten-day delay in testing. Subsequently, Moriel s insurer delayed for two years before paying the testing expenses and for over a year before paying the additional treatment expenses, and then only after the threat of collection efforts. Moriel initially filed a workers compensation claim against the insurer and was awarded $30, from the IAB. The insurer appealed this award to district court. In the district court action, Moriel counterclaimed for additional compensation, unpaid medical bills, and bad faith claims practices. The parties ultimately settled the workers compensation claim leaving Moriel s bad faith claim extant. Id. at 885. At the trial of the bad faith claim, the jury found that the insurer delayed paying the medical bills without a reasonable basis, that it knew or should have known that it had no reasonable basis to delay payment, and that it acted with heedless and reckless disregard of Moriel s rights. The jury awarded Moriel $ in actual damages, excluding mental anguish, $100, in mental anguish damages, and $1,000, in punitive damages. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict, and overruled the insurer s motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, new trial, remittitur, and to disregard the jury findings. The court of appeals affirmed with one justice dissenting. Id. at
8 Addressing the threshold for bad faith, the Texas Supreme Court stated that evidence which merely shows a bona fide dispute about the insurer s liability on the contract does not rise to the level of bad faith. Id. (emphasis supplied). The Moriel court noted that [a] simple disagreement among experts about whether the cause of the loss is one covered by the policy will not support a judgment for bad faith. Id. at 18. On the contrary, an insured claiming bad faith must prove that the insurer had no reasonable basis for denying or delaying payment of the claim, and that it knew or should have known that fact. Id. (citing Arnold and Aranda). The Moriel court concluded its discussion of the standards for assessing bad faith claims with its observation that [t]he bad faith of the insurer justifies an award of compensatory damages and nothing more. Only when accompanied by malicious, intentional, fraudulent, or grossly negligent conduct does bad faith justify punitive damages. Id. E. Implications of Lyons, Dominguez, Moriel, and the Bona Fide Dispute Standard The Texas Supreme Court s decision in Lyons -- with its particularized application of the traditional no evidence review -- refused to compromise the important protections of Aranda. Moreover, the supreme court s subsequent dicta in Moriel indicated a future willingness to allow summary disposition of bad faith claims for cases with a bona fide dispute or controversy as to coverage. The Lyons and Dominguez decisions clearly indicated that evidence that an expert s report was not objectively prepared, or that an insurer s reliance on such an expert was unreasonable, or any other evidence from which a factfinder could infer that an insurer acted without a reasonable basis create fact questions for a jury to resolve in the first instance. III. GILES MODIFIES THE LYONS/DOMINGUEZ BAD FAITH STANDARD In The Universe Life Insurance Company v. Giles, 950 S.W.2d 48 (Tex. 1997), the Supreme Court modified the liability standard that determines whether an insurer has violated its duty of good faith and fair dealing. In a plurality opinion joined by only four justices (Spector, Cornyn, Baker and Abbott), the Court held that an insurer will be liable if the insurer knew or should have known that it was reasonably clear that the claim was covered. Id. at 55. Justice Spector authored the plurality opinion and reasoned that eliminating the negative phrasing of the liability standard would assist appellate courts in conducting no evidence review by removing the double negative. Id. In a concurring/dissenting opinion, Justice Hecht pointed out that the restatement of the standard was merely semantic and did nothing to resolve the dilemma. 950 S.W.2d at 59. He noted that applying a standard of review that did not permit a weighing of evidence was the problem and not the negative phrasing of the liability standard for bad faith. Id. Justice Hecht argued that the reasonability of an insurer s delay or denial of a claim should be a legal question thus permitting appellate courts to review and weigh all evidence for and against coverage. Id. at 59. He would have imposed bad faith liability only for intentional and reckless conduct on the part of an insurer and not merely for negligence and mistakes. Id. at 60.
9 In Giles, no member of the Court had any trouble affirming the bad faith judgment against Universe Life. The insurer improperly denied the claim for payment of medical bills relating to bypass surgery, which she underwent three months after purchasing a health policy from Universe. Id. at 49 Universe denied the claim based on a pre-existing condition exclusion, arguing that her medical records indicated past symptoms of and treatment for chest pain, high cholesterol and atherosclerosis, and because she had a positive history of heart disease. The claimant s physicians subsequently wrote to Universe to clarify her medical records, making it quite clear that [she] was not treated for heart problems until a few weeks before surgery, after the policy issued and that the policy covered her claim. Id. at 60. The insured ignored this undisputed information from the insured s doctors indicating that there was a transcription error in the medical records and that the insured had no prior treatment for or history of heart problems. Despite the differences in the bad faith standards articulated by the plurality and concurring opinions, all nine members of the Court agreed that Universe s denial of the claim for medical benefits amounted to bad faith. See 950 S.W.2d at 58 ( The result in the present case is not a hard call. The Court is unanimous. ). IV. NICOLAU AND BONA FIDE DISPUTE DESTROYING EVIDENCE State Farm Lloyds v. Nicolau, 951 S.W.2d 444 (Tex. 1997) involved a disagreement among engineering and foundation experts about the cause of foundation movement that resulted in structural and cosmetic damage to the home of Ioan and Liana Nicolau, State Farm insureds. The Nicolaus experts concluded that a plumbing leak had caused the foundation to heave with resulting damage to the Nicolaus house. State Farm s expert examined the leak, evaluated the soil samples and other data collected by the insureds experts and concluded that the leak did not cause the foundation movement. The Supreme Court, however, found that there was some evidence that could have led the jury to conclude that State Farm s reliance on its expert was unreasonable and/or that the expert s opinion was not objectively prepared. 951 S.W.2d at For purposes of the coverage issues in current foundation cases, the Nicolau decision should have minimal impact. In Nicolau, the parties agreed that the policy at issue excluded losses caused by inherent vice, such as a construction or foundation defect, and by foundation movement, with the exception of losses caused by accidental discharge or leakage from a plumbing system. State Farm s claims superintendent, in fact, acknowledged that the Nicolaus policy would cover any foundation settlement caused by a plumbing leak. Id. at 452. A. Underlying Facts The Nicolaus foundation problems began in 1984 when they noticed cracks in the walls of their house. The Nicolaus lived in Corpus Christi, where many homes are built on expansive clay soil. 951 S.W.2d at 456 (Hecht, J., dissenting). Their own expert testified that many of the homes on the Nicolaus street had similar cosmetic problems resulting from soil conditions. Id. at 457 (Hecht, J., dissenting). The Nicolaus hired a foundation repair contractor (Krismer) and a structural engineer with Maverick Engineering (Bacon), who concluded that the front of the foundation was sinking due to
10 excessive drying of the soil caused by drought and trees in the front yard. Krismer installed piers under the front of the house to stabilize the foundation. In 1988 the Nicolaus again noticed walls cracking, but Krismer, Bacon, and another foundation repair person hired in 1989 all concluded that the piers were performing normally and the front of the foundation was stable. In late 1989, however, Krismer s inspection showed that the back of the house was some five inches higher than the front, resulting in significant cracking in the sheetrock and exterior brick as well as other damage. Id. at Bacon then referred the matter to another engineer at his company, Fred Hayden, and together they determined that the foundation movement was due to swelling of the soil at the back of the house rather than contraction of the soil at the front of the house. Id. at 447 (emphasis in original). Theorizing that excessive moisture under the foundation could cause the clay soil to expand, they tested for and detected a leak somewhere in the plumbing system. This was the first time a plumbing leak was suspected and the first time such tests were conducted. Id. The Nicolaus filed a claim with State Farm in February A leak detection firm hired by State Farm located the leak in a sewer line towards the front of the house and an adjuster hired by State Farm expressed doubts that the leak at the front of the house was responsible for the foundation damage. (There is no indication that State Farm or its adjuster investigated the possibility of another leak at this time). Id. Maverick engineering, however, provided the Nicolaus with a report that concluded that the plumbing leak could have caused the foundation heaving if the leaking water had flowed along the lines and trenches towards the rear of the house. Ralph Cooper, State Farm s claims superintendent, then hired Haag Engineering to give a second opinion. (Cooper was aware at the time that Haag was of the general opinion that a localized leak beneath the house would not cause foundation movement as a general rule. Id. at ) Haag s report concluded that the reported sewer leak did not significantly affect the foundation. Id. at 447. (Haag did not examine the leaking pipe, take core samples, or perform other tests of it own.) State Farm then denied the Nicolaus claim based on the inherent vice and foundation exclusions, but paid for the reimbursement of expenses in locating and repairing the leak. Id. The Nicolaus subsequently forwarded a report from Tetco, another engineering firm, which concluded that, based on soil samples, the leak had allowed water travel through the cushion sand layer beneath the foundation, causing widespread wet conditions in the soils. Id. After reviewing the report, however, Haag disagreed and stated that their initial opinion had not changed. Id. B. Procedural Overview The Nicolaus then sued State Farm for breach of contract and extra-contractual claims. The jury found that State Farm breached the contract, engaged in unfair or deceptive practices, maliciously breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing and knowingly engaged in unconscionable conduct. The jury awarded $102,200 in policy benefits for repairs, $50,000 for mental anguish, $300,000 in punitive damages and attorneys fees. The trial court, however, disregarded the extra-contractual findings and entered judgment for breach of contract and attorneys fees. Id. at 795. The court of appeals affirmed the breach of contract finding and reversed and rendered judgment on
11 the extra-contractual claim in accordance with the jury s findings. Nicolau v. State Farm Lloyds, 869 S.W.2d 543, 555 (Tex. App. -- Corpus Christi 1993). C. Supreme Court Decision The plurality opinion of Justice Spector affirmed the bad faith judgment because there was allegedly some evidence that State Farm s expert s report was not objectively prepared or State Farm s reliance on the report was unreasonable. 951 S.W.2d at See Lyons v. Millers Casualty Ins. Co., 866 S.W.2d 597, 601 (Tex. 1993) (insurer s reliance on expert report does not shield it from bad faith liability if there is evidence that the report was not objectively prepared or the insurer s reliance on the report was unreasonable); National Union fire Ins. Co. v. Dominguez, 873 S.W.2d 373, 377 (Tex. 1994) (same). In addition, the Court found as follows: The Court reversed the malice judgment because there was no evidence of malice as defined in Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann (6), revised, Act of April 11, 1995, 74 th Leg., R.S., ch.19, 1, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 108, S.W.2d at The Court reversed the judgment under the DTPA that State Farm knowingly engaged in unconscionable conduct because there was no evidence that State Farm took advantage of the Nicolaus to a grossly unfair degree or that the disparity between what the Nicolaus paid for insurance and the amounts they received under the policy was grossly disparate. 951 S.W.2d at 451. The Court held that the trial court did not err in refusing an instruction about the specific terms of the policy. Id. at The Court held that the trial court did not err in refusing to grant a stay or a mistrial based on newly discovered evidence. Id. at Finally, the Court remanded to the court of appeals to determine whether the Nicolaus are entitled to recover additional damages based on the jury s finding that State Farm knowingly engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Id. at 453. D. Some Evidence of a Lack of Objectivity? In assessing Haag s alleged lack of objectivity, Justice Spector emphasized that Haag s engineer testified that Haag Engineering did a substantial amount of work for insurance companies. Id. at 448. This engineer testified that 80% to 90% of his work was insurance investigations. Id. Haag s engineer said he knew the insurer would be required to pay if a policyholder s home was damaged by a leak. Id. Spector s plurality opinion permits the inference that State Farm obtained reports from Haag because of Haag s general view that plumbing leaks are unlikely to cause foundation damage. Id. at 449. Spector s opinion also relied on the testimony of the Nicolaus attorney, who had represented State Farm in the past and testified, without objection, that State Farm s superintendent hired Haag because he was aware that Haag, as a general rule, would not agree that a leak caused foundation damage. Id. The Nicolaus attorney also testified that
12 neither of the two engineers who said the leak damaged the slab ever worked on a slab foundation case again. Id. Justice Spector acknowledges, however, that [s]tanding alone, this evidence would not always be evidence of bad faith. Id. Additionally, Justice Spector emphasized that Haag s investigation was inadequate and this allegedly inadequate investigation is some evidence of pretext. Her plurality opinion notes other evidence leading to some evidence of unreasonable expert reports and pretext. Spector emphasized that Haag failed to examine the leaking pipe and did not take soil samples or perform moisture content tests. Id. at 449. Haag did not do any further testing in response to a report which had found that water from the leak had spread throughout the soils underlying the Nicolaus foundation.... Id. at 797. Spector also noted that the Haag report said soil moisture content should not be considered high and that the Nicolaus expert found this conclusion to be ridiculous. Id. State Farm s own expert at trial disagreed with Haag s conclusion about soil moisture. Id. at 450. V. WILLIAMS REAFFIRMS THE BONA FIDE DISPUTE RULE In United States Fire Insurance Co. v. Williams, 955 S.W.2d 267 (Tex. 1997), the Court reiterated the continuing viability of Lyons, Dominguez and Moriel by affirming summary judgment for an insurer on a disputed coverage question. In 1992, a worker for JRJ Paving, Inc., Nathaniel Williams, died in an automobile accident while on the job. JRJ Paving had a workers compensation policy with U.S. Fire that provided accidental death benefits to beneficiaries of employees killed on the job. U.S. Fire received an injury report from JRJ Paving identifying Nathaniel s spouse as Lessie. (This woman s full name was Lessie Voyd. ) U.S. Fire later learned that another woman, Essie Williams, claimed benefits as Nathaniel s wife. Id. at U.S. Fire took the recorded statement of Nathaniel s potential beneficiaries, Essie Williams and Lessie Voyd. Essie and Nathaniel married in 1957, separated in 1978, but never divorced. Essie s statement indicated that the couple planned to divorce but never got around to it. Nathaniel Williams lived with Lessie Voyd continuously between 1978 and his death in U.S. Fire deemed Essie Williams to have abandoned Nathaniel Williams under Workers Compensation Rule 132.3, 28 Tex. Admin. Code and therefore not entitled to benefits. U.S. Fire began paying weekly benefits to Lessie Voyd under the policy. Id. at 268. Almost a year later, Essie Williams filed a claim for benefits with the Workers Compensation Commission. Subsequently, both a benefit review officer and a hearings officer agreed with U.S. Fire that Essie Williams was not entitled to benefits. In a split decision, however, the appeals panel for the administrative agency reversed the contested hearing decision. A dissenting panel member of the appeals panel also agreed with U.S. Fire s interpretation of the rule. Id. A few months later, Essie Williams sued U.S. Fire in state district court for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, as well as for DTPA and Insurance Code violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court granted U.S. Fire s motion for summary judgment. The court of appeals affirmed the summary
13 judgment in part, but reversed the judgment on Essie Williams bad faith claims. 955 S.W.2d at 267. In so holding, the Dallas Court of Appeals concluded that there was a fact question about U.S. Fire s investigation of good cause for the claimant s abandonment of her deceased spouse. 915 S.W.2d at The Texas Supreme Court reversed, in a per curiam opinion, and held that U.S. Fire was entitled to summary judgment because its summary judgment proof established that there was no more than a good faith dispute.... Id. The Court found a bona fide dispute despite U.S. Fire s failure to investigate whether good cause existed for Essie Williams abandonment of her husband fourteen years prior to his death. Williams reaffirms the continuing viability of the bona fide dispute standard and positions the case within the framework established by Lyons, Dominguez, and Moriel despite the failure to investigate claims advanced. VI. STATE FARM v. SIMMONS: BAD FAITH LIABILITY FOR DEFICIENT INVESTIGATIONS? A. Overview In July of 1997, the Texas Supreme Court revisited the question of how to define common law bad faith in Texas. Revising the negative phrasing of the Arnold/Aranda no reasonable basis standard, the decisions in Giles, Nicolau, and U.S. Fire v. Williams hold that an insurer will be liable [for common law bad faith] if the insurer knew or should have known that it was reasonably clear that the claim was covered. Although Giles, Nicolau, and Williams provided a significant modification of the standard for common law bad faith, these decisions did not necessarily jettison the bona fide dispute standard previously articulated in Lyons, Dominguez, and Moriel. In an important bad faith failure to investigate case -- State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Simmons, 963 S.W.2d 42 (Tex. 1998) -- the Texas Supreme Court cited but really did not apply the bona fide dispute defense as previously articulated. Simmons arguably permits recovery in a bad faith case for merely deficient investigations, thereby depriving insurers of the promise of Aranda, the right to be wrong. The 6-3 majority opinion in Simmons, authored by Justice Spector, deferred to a Montgomery County jury and found that State Farm improperly denied the Simmonses fire claim by targeting the insureds while failing to investigate neighbors who already had burglarized and vandalized the Simmonses home. Much like the Court s Nicolau decision, Simmons reflects an internecine struggle between competing views of insurance companies. Justice Spector s viewpoint -- which mirrors John Grisham s The Rainmaker -- imputes evil motives to insurance companies in nearly all situations. Justice Hecht, on the other hand, takes a more benign view of insurers, and has consistently pressed for resolution of bad faith issues as a matter of law. It took a divided Court more than four years to resolve Simmons, but ultimately Justice Spector s viewpoint carried the day. After a fact-specific recitation of the record, the Simmons majority concluded that State Farm breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing by conducting a biased
14 investigation intended to construct a pretextual basis for denial. 963 S.W.2d at 44. While acknowledging (1) that evidence establishing only a bona fide coverage dispute does not demonstrate bad faith and (2) that [a]n insurance company s obligation to investigate is obviously not unlimited, the Court still concluded that State Farm did not make a goodfaith effort to investigate objectively, but instead engaged in an outcome-oriented investigation designed to place the Simmonses at the center of an arson triangle. Id. at 45. B. Deficient, Outcome-Oriented Investigation? In affirming bad faith for an alleged failure to investigate, the Simmons majority emphasized that the testimony of State Farm s own experts, as well as its own internal documents, established the deficiencies of the company s review of the Simmonses claim. The Court criticized State Farm for immediately deeming the fire loss suspicious just because the Simmonses had filed a previous theft claim that was paid. Additionally, State Farm s adjuster had testified that revenge and spite were common motivations for arson and the Simmonses had identified five people who may have had grudges against them. State Farm, however, never attempted to locate these individuals and the combined fire report listed locating these individuals as an unfinished item of investigation. Id. at 45. The Court also noted that State Farm s investigation did not objectively address the common indicators of fraud by arson, which include: 1. a recently purchased policy or a recently increased policy; 2. a policy that significantly exceeds the insured property s value; 3. efforts by the insured to sell the property or other concrete indications that the insured intended to move; 4. prior fire losses; 5. a strong alibi for the insured; 6. unusual money problems, such as high medical bills or legal fees; 7. the removal of furniture or personal items before the fire; or 8. a huge [financial] burden resulting from the strain of meeting everyday expenses. 963 S.W.2d at 46. None of the first six criteria were met for the Simmonses claim and State Farm s information on the last two criteria was erroneous and thus did not provide a reasonable basis for denial. Id. ( If the Simmonses had actually burned their house, they would have been left with no home and a deficiency owed to their mortgage lender. ) To the extent there was a conflict on the amount of the Simmonses mortgage obligation, the jury could have inferred that a reasonable insurer would have approached its insureds to resolve the apparently conflicting information and would have eventually concluded that the insureds lacked a sufficient motive to commit arson. Id. at 47.
15 In dissent, Justice Hecht emphasized that coverage for the Simmonses fire loss was the subject of a bona fide dispute. In large part, the undisputed evidence regarding two prongs of the arson triangle -- opportunity and motive -- came from the Simmonses themselves. Moreover, no party contested that the fire was intentionally set, the third prong of the arson triangle. Justice Hecht lamented that under Simmons proof that an insurer s investigation was deficient in some respect is enough for bad faith liability. Id. at 49. Hecht would have required proof that the deficient investigation led the insurer to deny the claim when liability was reasonably clear -- not just proof of a merely deficient investigation. Id. Although Justice Hecht does not believe the majority intended to impose bad faith liability on every insurer whose investigation is deficient in some respect, Simmons will likely result in many bad faith cases going to a jury where previously summary judgment would have been appropriate. At the very least, Simmons creates confusion and reflects a willingness to address bad faith on a case-by-case basis. Although the Texas Supreme Court found bad faith liability for State Farm s alleged failure to investigate (and thus a DTPA violation as well), the court reversed the jury s award of two million dollars in punitive damages. The Court reiterated that [o]nly when accompanied by malicious, intentional, fraudulent or grossly negligent conduct does bad faith justify punitive damages. 963 S.W.2d at 47 (citing Moriel, 879, S.W.2d at 18). The Simmonses were required to introduce evidence showing that State Farm was actually aware that its action would probably result in extraordinary harm not ordinarily associated with breach of contract or bad faith denial of a claim -- such as death, grievous physical injury, or financial ruin. Id. (citing Moriel, 879 S.W.2d at 24). Reviewing the record, the Court found the evidence legally insufficient to support an award of punitive damages. Id. This reaffirmation of Moriel on punitive damages in bad faith cases is useful in a case that otherwise appears to depart from the Lyons, Dominguez, and Moriel trilogy. VII. PROVIDENT AMERICAN APPLIES PRE-GILES NO REASONABLE BASIS STANDARD In Provident American Insurance Co. v. Castaneda, 988 S.W.2d 189 (Tex. 1998), the Texas Supreme Court ruled against an insured (Denise Castaneda) whose claim for surgery expenses was not paid by her insurance company. The case was decided under a pre-giles formulation of the bad faith standard as set forth in the Lyons and Dominguez cases. 988 S.W.2d at 193. The court specifically found there was no evidence of no reasonable basis and emphasized that evidence of a coverage dispute in the case was not evidence that liability under the policy had become reasonably clear. Id. at 194. The bona fide dispute turned on evidence of what the Castaneda family knew and when. Denise Castaneda s brother had visited the doctor because he was jaundiced. While the test results were pending, the Castaneda family applied for medical insurance with Provident American. The policy was issued effective June 17, The policy did not cover sicknesses that first manifested within thirty days of the policy s effective date, nor did it cover internal organ disorders within the first six months of the policy. Shortly thereafter, the Castanedas learned that Denise s uncle had been diagnosed with Hemolytic Spherocytosis ( HS ), a disorder causing misshapen red blood cells.
16 On July 20, 1991, Denise Castaneda was diagnosed with HS. In August, she had her spleen and gallbladder removed to prevent destruction of red blood cells and the formation of gallstones. Castaneda submitted her claim to Provident American, which denied it on the basis of the six-month policy exclusion for internal organ disorders. After Castaneda s father explained that removal of the gallbladder was only secondary to HS, Provident American reopened the claim, but later denied the claim on the ground that the HS disorder had manifested within thirty days of the policy s effective date. Provident American then informed Castaneda that it would reconsider her claim, but Castaneda never received a response from Provident American after providing information about her treatment. Castaneda sued, claiming violations of the DTPA and Insurance Code. The trial court entered judgment for Castaneda on the jury s verdict, awarding $50,000 in actual damages based on a broad-form jury question that allowed the jury to combine damages for lost policy benefits and past loss of credit. The jury also awarded $100,000 in additional damages, a 12% penalty under the Insurance Code on the lost benefits, attorney s fees, and prejudgment interest. The court of appeal reversed as to the 12% penalty, but otherwise affirmed the trial court s judgment. 914 S.W.2d 273, 284. The Texas Supreme Court reversed and rendered holding the judgment against Provident American was not supported by legally sufficient evidence. 988 S.W.2d at 200. The undisputed evidence indicated that Denise and her brother exhibited symptoms even before their father applied for the policy. Evidence in the case indicated that just three days after the thirty-day waiting period expired, Denise Castaneda saw a physician and was diagnosed with a hereditary blood disorder. Two weeks later, she underwent surgery to remove her spleen as treatment for this condition. During surgery it was confirmed that her disorder had caused gallstones, and her gallbladder was also removed. The Texas Supreme Court found no evidence calling into question Provident American s reliance on this information or its reliance on medical records and on communications with Denise Castaneda s physicians. 988 S.W.2d at 195. VIII. BONA FIDE DISPUTE DEFEATS COMMON-LAW AND STATUTORY BAD FAITH CLAIMS A number of Texas and federal courts have recognized that when statutory extracontractual causes of action (e.g., deceptive trade practices and Insurance Code claims) do nothing more than recharacterize the plaintiff s bad faith claim, a defense to a bad faith claim serves to defeat the extracontractual causes of action. Theses case recognize that the same standard applies to extra-contractual causes of action for failure to pay a claim under the Texas Insurance Code and DTPA because those statutory causes of action require the same predicate for recovery as bad faith causes of action. Emmert v. Progressive County Mut. Ins. Co., 882 S.W.2d 32, 36 (Tex. App.--Tyler 1994, writ denied) (holding reasonable basis for denying a claim is a defense to DTPA and Insurance Code claims). See also Giles, 950 S.W.2d at 55 (noting the standard adopted in bad faith actions unifies the common law and statutory standards); Higginbotham v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 103 F.2d 456, 460 (holding Texas courts have clearly ruled [DTPA and Insurance Code] claims require the same predicate for recovery as bad faith causes of action in Texas. ); Lyons v. Millers Cas. Ins. Co. of Texas, 866 S.W.2d 597,
17 601 (Tex. 1993) (disposing of bad faith and DTPA counts together; no extra-contractual damages allowed under any theory). Thus, if any insurer has a reasonable basis for denying a claim, it may very well have a complete defense against common law and statutory bad faith claims. IX. INNOCENT CO-INSURED CAN RECOVER INSURANCE PROCEEDS DESPITE ARSON In a recent arson case, Texas Farmers Insurance Co. v. Murphy, 996 S.W.2d 873 (Tex. 1999), Farmers Insurance claimed insured Robert Murphy triggered the concealment clause by making a claim on the policy after intentionally burning his house down. Farmers further asserted that this condition unambiguously barred recovery not only by Robert, but also for his ex-wife Daisy. Although Farmers plead the concealment-clause defense, it did not obtain any jury findings on it. Farmers made no mention of this defense before the trial court or the court of appeals. In sum, Farmers challenge to Daisy s right of recovery was predicated entirely on public policy grounds alone. 996 S.W.2d at 880. Although Farmers attempted to revive its concealment-clause defense in its brief and oral arguments, the Texas Supreme Court found that Farmers had abandoned and waived any defense to liability under the concealment clause. Id. Murphy holds that, in the absence of a valid contractual defense properly pled and preserved by the insurance carrier, no public policy prevents an innocent spouse from recovering his or her interest in insured community property destroyed by the other spouse. 996 S.W.2d at 875. The court also held that partition of the community interest in insurance proceeds or divorce is no prerequisite to recovery of the policy benefits. Id. at 881. Although the entire Murphy court agreed that the fraud defense would defeat even an innocent spouse s recovery, none of the opinions considered the anti-technicality statute, Insurance Code article 21.19, which requires that misrepresentations or false statements [made] in proofs of loss be material and mislead the carrier and cause it to waive or lose some valid defense to the policy before such misrepresentations may be relied on to void the carrier s liability under the policy. Murphy thus allows insurers to argue that the arson itself constitutes a fraud for purposes of the policy defense that is not subject to the anti-technicality statute s limitations on false statements or misrepresentations. X. RECENT BAD FAITH APPELLATE DECISIONS This section of the paper addresses a number of recent Texas appellate decisions that consider the bona fide dispute defense, insurer reliance on expert testimony, and other bad faith issues. A number of the cases arise in the context of arson and foundation/insurance litigation. A. Evry v. USAA: a Recent Bad Faith Arson/Insurance Case
18 Evry v. United Serv. Auto. Ass n, 979 S.W.2d 818 (Tex. App.--Eastland 1998, pet. denied) involved an insurer s denial of coverage in a arson case. The homeowners sued for $677,000 dwelling and $700,000 contents coverage. They also sought damages for bad faith, DTPA, and Insurance Code violations. The trial court directed a verdict on the issue of common law and statutory bad faith. Id. at 818. The appellate court affirmed and held the homeowners had failed to prove that the insurer s liability had become reasonably clear. Id. at 822 (citing Simmons, Giles, Dominguez, and Moriel). On the question of arson, the jury determined that either the homeowners or someone acting on their behalf or with their knowledge had intentionally set fire to the house. Id. at The appellate court affirmed the directed verdict on bad faith and the jury s finding of arson, emphasizing the circumstantial evidence of arson, including : the presence of accelerant and distinctive burn patterns at the house; two fires at the house, the second starting the day after fire department personnel extinguished the initial fire; the house was locked at the time of the fire, only three people had keys, and the burglar alarm never went off before the fire; furniture and clothing were removed from the house before the first fire was set; the homeowners had increased their insurance coverage shortly before the fire; and the homeowners were having financial difficulties. Id. at B. Franklin v. Lumbermens: Bona Fide Dispute as a Matter of Law? Franklin v. Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Co., 1998 WL (Tex. App.-- Dallas 1998, n.w.h), is a workers compensation bad faith case in which the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the insurance company. The finding of no bad faith as a matter of law is significant in light of Justice Spector s assertion in Giles that bad faith is always a fact question. The Dallas Court of Appeals determined that the insurer had a reasonable basis for believing the compensation claim was not covered. Id. at *3. The plaintiff had argued that the insurer s reliance on the report of the TWCC s designated doctor was unreasonable. Initially, the TWCC s designated doctor determined that the plaintiff had reached maximum medical improvement ( MMI ) with a 7% impairment rating. After receiving this report the insurer stopped payment of temporary income benefits and began paying impairment income benefits. The plaintiff disputed the MMI finding and so the TWCC held a benefit review conference. The designated doctor re-examined the plaintiff and revised his opinion, changing plaintiff s MMI date to a date that allowed her to
19 receive the maximum statutory income benefits. The doctor also revised the plaintiff s impairment rating to 15% and stated that he had not been able to accurately assess the plaintiff s impairment rating initially because she had not cooperated fully during the first examination. The plaintiff alleged that her income benefits were erroneously terminated for a period of about seven months and that she was forced to place her five children and guardian children in foster care and had to sell all her belongings. Id. at *2. Plaintiff sued Lumbermens for breach of a workers compensation insurance agreement, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, gross negligence, and violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Texas Insurance Code. The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed a summary judgment in favor of Lumbermens and concluded that under either the reasonably clear or the no reasonable basis standard, there was no evidence in the record to suggest that the designated doctor s report was not reasonably prepared or that Lumbermens reliance on the report was unreasonable. Affirming summary judgment, the Dallas Court of Appeals lamented the fact that the Giles change in the bad faith standard does little to provide appellate courts with badly needed guidance in reviewing bad faith claims. Id. at *3. Under the old standard, a plaintiff had to show no reasonable basis for the denial. Under the new standard, a plaintiff must show the insurer delayed or denied payment of the claim after liability became reasonably clear. Id. (citation to Giles omitted). Despite the change in the standard, Franklin notes that to prove liability was reasonably clear, a plaintiff must establish that the insurer had no reasonable basis for the denial. Id. (emphasizing that the change in the liability standard was merely semantic ). The Dallas Court of Appeals reasoned that [a]s movant for summary judgment, the insurer may negate an essential element of the plaintiff s claim by showing its liability under the policy was not reasonably clear, i.e., there was a reasonable basis for believing the claim was not covered. Id. at *3. Surprisingly, Franklin v. Lumbermens permits insurers to escape bad faith liability -- as a matter of law -- where there is a reasonable basis for believing the claim was not covered. Id. at *4. This outcome appears to run contrary to the opinion of numerous commentators that bad faith is now always a jury question. C. Wallis Places the Ultimate Burden of Proof on Insureds to Allocate Between Covered and Excluded Damages A recent decision of the San Antonio Court of Appeals, Wallis v. United Services Automobile Association, 1999 WL (Tex. App.--San Antonio Feb. 10, 1999, no petition), holds that the insured, and not the insurer, has the burden of proving covered damages in foundation and other mixed peril cases. Wallis specifically indicates that the insured carries the burden of segregating the damage attributable solely to the covered event WL at *3. Despite the provisions of Article 21.58(b) of the Insurance Code, Wallis emphasizes that insureds are not entitled to recover under an insurance policy unless they prove their damage is covered by the policy. Id. This recent decision addresses the burden of proof issue more specifically than Oram v. State Farm Lloyds, 977 S.W.2d 163 (Tex. App.--Austin 1998, no petition). Oram had held that because the insurer failed to plead or request a jury finding on the amount of cosmetic damages or additional living expenses attributable to excluded causes under the policy,
20 the jury s finding that 60% of damages were caused by a covered peril would apply only to the foundation repair costs. Id. at 168. Arguably implicit in Oram was the understanding that it is the insurer s burden to segregate and prove all costs attributable to excluded causes. Wallis, however, places the burden of segregating damages between covered and uncovered perils squarely on the insured. In this foundation case, the insureds claim for damages to their home was denied. The insureds sued their insurer for breach of contract, fraud, negligence, bad faith, and violations of the DTPA and Insurance Code. A jury found the insurer breached its contract but had not committed bad faith or any violation of the DTPA or Insurance Code WL at *1. The jury determined that 35% of the damage was caused by plumbing leaks and 65% was caused by excluded earth movement related to the lot s topography. Id. The trial court entered judgment for the insurer notwithstanding the jury verdict on breach of contract and held the jury s finding on the amount of damage caused by plumbing leaks was not supported by legally sufficient evidence. The San Antonio Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court s entry of a take-nothing judgment in favor of the insurer. Id. 1. Factual dispute about whether plumbing leaks caused foundation damage The homeowners in Wallis believed plumbing leaks caused their foundation damage. The insurer s investigation, however, indicated the damage was caused by several excluded perils, including settlement, poor surface drainage, lot topography (the house was built on a slope and was sliding down the lot), and surrounding vegetation. Although the insurer detected leaks in its investigation, it concluded these leaks were negligible and had not caused or contributed to complained of damage. Id. at *1. The insurer concluded that improper compaction of fill dirt upon which the home rested was the primary source of the problem; the house had settled as much as fifteen inches on the low end of the hill where soil was placed to create a plane for the foundation. Id. Experts for the homeowners did not challenge the insurer s evidence regarding the excluded perils. These experts did, however, challenge the conclusion drawn regarding the effect of the plumbing leaks and claimed leaks could not be excluded as a contributing cause of damage. Id. Although the engineering testimony varied, the jury heard that the plumbing leaks did contribute to the damage, or that the plumbing leaks could have contributed to the damage, or that the plumbing leaks could not be excluded as a contributing factor to the damage. From this testimony, the jury could have believed that plumbing leaks caused part of the complained-of damage. Id. The engineers, however, could not indicate the extent to which plumbing leaks damaged the insureds home and the court determined that this was fatal to the plaintiffs claim. Id. at *3. 2. Insured has the burden of proof under the concurrent causes doctrine
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