Legal Malpractice Case and Insurance Exclusions

Sometimes the question of legal malpractice is at the forefront of a case, and sometimes it is the least important part.  in K2 Inv. Group, LLC v American Guar. & Liab. Ins. Co2014 NY Slip Op 01102 [22 NY3d 578]  February 18, 2014  Judge Smith of the Court of Appeals makes the rare admission of their mistake, and agrees that on a motion to renew, the decision should be reversed.

"In K2-I, we affirmed an order granting plaintiffs summary judgment, holding that American Guarantee's breach of its duty to defend barred it from relying on policy exclusions. We later granted reargument (21 NY3d 1049 [2013]), and we now vacate our prior decision and reverse the Appellate Division's order.{**22 NY3d at 585}"

In Servidone—a case in which, as in this one, the insurer was relying on policy exclusions in defending against a suit for indemnification—we stated the question as follows:

"Where an insurer breaches a contractual duty to defend its insured in a personal injury action, and the insured thereafter concludes a reasonable settlement with the injured party, is the insurer liable to indemnify the insured even if coverage is disputed?" (64 NY2d at 421.)
We answered the question in Servidone no. In K2-I, we held that "when a liability insurer has breached its duty to defend its insured, the insurer may not later rely on policy exclusions to escape its duty to indemnify the insured for a judgment against him" (21 NY3d at 387). The Servidone and K2-I holdings cannot be reconciled.

 

In short, to decide this case we must either overrule Servidone or follow it. We choose to follow it.

There is much to be said for the rule of K2-I, as our previous opinion shows; but, as the Servidone opinion shows, there is also much to be said for the Servidone rule. Several states follow the Servidone approach (e.g. Sentinel Ins. Co., Ltd. v First Ins. Co. of Haw., Ltd., 76 Haw 277, 290-297, 875 P2d 894, 907-914 [1994]; Polaroid Corp. v Travelers Indem. Co., 414 Mass 747, 760-766, 610 NE2d 912, 919-923 [1993]), while others adopt a rule like that of K2-I (e.g. Employers Ins. of Wausau v Ehlco Liquidating Trust, 186 Ill 2d 127, 150-154, 708 [*4]NE2d 1122, 1134-1136 [1999]; Missionaries of Co. of Mary, Inc. v Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 155 Conn 104, 112-114, 230 A2d 21, 25-26 [1967]). A federal district judge, writing in 1999, said that "[t]he majority of jurisdictions which have considered the question" follow the Servidone rule (Flannery v Allstate Ins. Co., 49 F Supp 2d 1223, 1227 [D Colo 1999]).

Under these circumstances, we see no justification for overruling Servidone. Plaintiffs have not presented any indication that the Servidone rule has proved unworkable, or caused{**22 NY3d at 587} significant injustice or hardship, since it was adopted in 1985. When our Court decides a question of insurance law, insurers and insureds alike should ordinarily be entitled to assume that the decision will remain unchanged unless or until the legislature decides otherwise. In other words, the rule of stare decisis, while it is not inexorable, is strong enough to govern this case.

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