Articles Posted in Insurance Agents

Any insurance lawyer who handles many cases will see situations where the insurance agent is simply a criminal.  The Insurance Journal has published two stories where an agent has been convicted for his actions.

The first one is from June 2016 and is titled, Texas Insurance Agent Arrested In Scam Targeting Elderly Clients.  The story tells us about a Lubbock based insurance agent being arrested and charged with defrauding elderly victims through an annuity scam.

The Texas Department of Insurance reported that Joseph Allen Gaines was arrested last month on charges that he kept clients’ money that was intended to be used to purchase annuities.

Grand Prairie insurance lawyers need to be able to evaluate an insurance agent’s conduct to determine if the insurance company is liable for the agent’s conduct.

An insurance company may be liable for unauthorized conduct of an agent or other person, if the insurance company ratifies the conduct.  Ratification may occur when the insurance company, though having no knowledge of the unauthorized act, retains the benefits of the transaction after acquiring full knowledge of it.  The critical factor is the insurer’s knowledge of the transaction and its actions in light of that knowledge.  Ratification extends to the entire transaction according to the 1980, Texas Supreme Court opinion, Land Title Co. of Dallas, Inc. v. F.M. Stigler, Inc.

One example of ratification is found in the 1989, Houston Court of Appeals [14th Dist.] opinion, Paramount National Life Insurance Co. v. Williams.  Here, an insurance company issued a hospitalization policy, without further investigation, despite having an application indicating the insured’s advanced age and poor health, and despite having knowledge of the agent’s inexperience.  By nevertheless accepting premiums, the insurance company ratified the agent’s misrepresentations made in the sale of the policy.

Most experienced insurance attorneys in Dallas and Fort Worth can tell you the law in this area can be confusing, despite the relatively straightforward principles.  Historically, there was a distinction between “recording” agents and “soliciting” agents.  A recording agent had authority co-extensive with that of the company, so there was no question of the agent’s actual or apparent authority.  This was discussed in the well known 1979, Texas Supreme Court opinion, Royal Globe Insurance Co. v. Bar Consultants, Inc.  The court noted that the authority of a soliciting agent was much more limited than the authority of a recording agent.  The same court went on to hold that the insurance company was liable for the agent’s misrepresentation of coverage.

This has led some courts to conclude mistakenly that an insurance company could be liable for misrepresentations by a recording agent, but not by a soliciting agent.  This has been seen in the 1984, Houston [1st Dist.] opinion styled, Guthrie v. Republic National Insurance Co.  This analysis was wrong, which was made clear when the Texas Supreme Court decided the 1994, opinion, Celtic Life Insurance Co. v. Coats, and rejected this argument.

In Celtic v. Coats, the court held the insurance company was liable for a misrepresentation by a soliciting agent.  The focus was not on the agent’s status as recording or soliciting.  Instead, the court applied the two-step analysis:  was he the company’s agent; and was the misconduct within the actual or apparent scope of his authority?  Both questions were answered affirmatively, so the insurance company was liable.

Another one of those questions that Insurance Law Attorneys ask themselves on many of the cases they see.

Pursuant to Texas Insurance Code, Sections 4001.051(c) and 4001.053, an agent is not authorized by statutes to alter or waive a term or condition of an insurance policy or an application for an insurance policy.  Nevertheless, as can be seen in section 4001.051(b), an insurer will be liable “for purposes of the liabilities, duties, and penalties provided by” certain statutes.  The referenced statutes include the prohibitions found in Chapter 21 and now found in the new codification at Sections 4001.051 and 4001.009.  The Texas Supreme Court explained the interaction between these provisions under the older statutes as follows quoting from Royal Globe Insurance Co. v. Bar Consultants, Inc.:

We are not to be understood as holding that the statutory authority granted an agent under Article 21.02 authorizes that agent to misrepresent policy coverage and bind the company to terms contrary to those of the written policy; that question was decided by us in International Sec. Life Ins. Co. v. Finck, 496 S.W.2d 544 (Tex. 1973).  However, an insurance company that authorizes an agent to sell its policies may not escape liability for the misrepresentations made by that agent which violate article 21.21 or section 17.46 merely by establishing that the agent had no actual authority to make such misrepresentation.

The above is a question most insurance lawyers will ask themselves when investigating a case.

An insurance company cannot escape liability by showing that it did not authorize the specific wrongful act.  This is made clear in two Texas Supreme Court opinions.  One is styled, Celtic Life Insurance Co. v. Coats, and it was issued in 1994.  The other is styled, Royal Globe Insurance Co. v. Bar Consultants, Inc., issued in 1979.

As the Celtic court stated:

An insurer also may be liable for unauthorized acts by an agent, if the agent is acting within the scope of his “apparent authority.”  Actual authority is not required.  The insurer will be liable when by its conduct it has given the agent the appearance of having authority, so that a reasonable person would suppose the agent had authority.  This was the ruling in the 1979, Texas Supreme Court case, Royal Globe Insurance Co. v. Bar Consultants, Inc.

Apparent authority is an estoppel theory that holds the insurer liable because the insurer has clothed the agent with indicia of authority that would lead a reasonable person to believe the agent had authority.  If the agent is acting within the scope of his apparent authority, not even instructions not to mislead, nor diligence in preventing misrepresentations, will shield the insurer from liability.  Evidence of apparent authority may include:

  1.  application forms referring to the individual as the company’s agent, (see Paramount National Life Insurance Co. v. Williams and Tidelands Life Insurance Co. v. Franco)

Lawyers in general and insurance lawyers specifically know there are two types of authority — actual and apparent.  In turn, actual authority can be expressed or implied.  An agent’s authority can be actual authority expressly conferred by the insurer, or it can be actual authority implicit in the agent’s duties.  The authority also can be apparent authority arising from acts by the insurer that give the agent the appearance of having authority.

Unfortunately, courts are not always precise in labeling the types of authority.  Confusion creeps in when courts mistakenly call implied is not actual authority, or when they speak of implied authority as a form of apparent authority.

Courts have described actual authority this way:

Most Weatherford lawyers will tell you that it may be obvious that a person was the insurer’s agent and was acting as a agent — e.g., a person licensed to sell the company’s policy was engaged in selling the policy.  In addition, the statutes make clear that anyone engaging in the listed activities on behalf of an insurer will be treated as agent for that insurer.

As the Texas Supreme Court said in the 1994 opinion, Celtic Life Insurance Co. v. Coats, under the predecessor statute agents are defined generally, and the statute lists various acts performed in the ordinary course of providing insurance — such as soliciting insurance; transmitting an application; receiving, collecting or transmitting a premium; and adjusting a loss.  Anyone who performs these acts “shall be held to be the agent of the company for which the act is done, or the risk is taken, as far as relates to all liabilities, duties, requirements, and penalties set forth in the statute.

In Celtic Life where the person performed on behalf of the insurer at least some of the listed acts – such as soliciting the policy – he was clearly the insurer’s agent.  The insurer was liable for the agent’s misrepresentation in explaining the mental health benefits under the policy.

Weatherford insurance attorneys need to read and know Texas Insurance Code, section 4001.051.  This section provides an expansive list of conduct that constitutes “acting as an agent” for an insurance company, as follows:

a) This section applies regardless of whether an insurer is incorporated under the laws of this state or another state or a foreign government.

(b) Regardless of whether the act is done at the request of or by the employment of an insurer, broker, or other person, a person is the agent of the insurer for which the act is done or risk is taken for purposes of the liabilities, duties, requirements, and penalties provided by this title, Chapter 21, or a provision listed in Section 4001.009 if the person:

Graford Texas insurance lawyers learn real fast how to determine whether someone is an agent of an insurance company, or not.

The first step to determine whether an insurer is vicariously liable is to determine whether the person who engaged in the conduct was acting as the insurer’s agent.

The question — “Who are agents?” was answered, until recently, by one statute.  Formerly, article 21.02 broadly defined “agents” to include any person who performed certain actions on behalf of an insurance company.  As part of the ongoing codification of Texas statutes, the old article 21.02 is now found in Texas Insurance Code sections 4001.003 and 4001.051.