Hail Claims – Prompt Notice

For lawyers handling hail damage claims, a Southern District, McAllen Division opinion is an interesting read.  The case is styled, Gloria Martinez v. State Farm Lloyds.

Martinez’s claims arise out of a storm that damaged her property in 2012 or 2014.  It is undisputed that Martinez first gave notice of a loss on September 25, 2014.  She eventually filed suit against State Farm alleging breach of contract and extra-contractual claims.  State Farm caused the case to be removed to Federal Court and a few months later filed a motion for summary judgment.

Under Federal Procedural Rule 56, summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine dispute as to a material fact and the movant is entitled to as a matter of law.  A fact issue is “material” if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action, while a “genuine” dispute is present only if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.

In a motion for summary judgment, the movant bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.  Absent a sufficient showing, summary judgment is not warranted, the analysis is ended, and the non-movant need not defend the motion.   On the other hand, the movant is freed from this initial burden on matters for which the non-movant would bear the burden of proof at trial; in that event, the movant’s burden is reduced to merely pointing to the absence of evidence.  If the movant meets its initial burden, the non-movant must then demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.  This demonstration must specifically indicate facts and their significance, and cannot consist solely of conclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation.

In conducting its analysis, the Court considers evidence from the entire record and views that evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant.  Thus, although the Court refrains from determinations of credibility and evidentiary weight, the Court nonetheless gives credence to all evidence favoring the non-movant; on the other hand, regarding evidence that favors the movant, the Court gives credence to evidence that is un-contradicted and unimpeachable, but disregards evidence the jury is not required to believe.  Rather than combing through the record on its own, the Court looks to the motion and response to present evidence for consideration.  Parties may cite to any part of the record, or bring evidence in the motion and response.  By either method, parties need not proffer evidence in a form admissible at trial, but must proffer evidence substantively admissible at trial.

State Farm argues that Martinez is barred from maintaining a breach of contract claim as a matter of law for two alternative reasons, depending on the actual date of loss.  State Farm’s first argument is that if October 18, 2012 is the date of loss, Martinez’s notice to them on September 25, 2014, nearly two years after the date of loss, fails to comply with the notice requirement in the insurance contract.  In Texas, satisfying insurance policy notice requirements is a condition precedent to coverage.  Failure to do so constitutes a breach of contract and relieves the insurer of the obligation to defend or indemnify.  The insurance contract in this case provides that after a loss to which this insurance may apply, you shall … give immediate notice to us or our agent.  While the insurance contract does not specify what qualifies as immediate notice, twenty three months surely does not suffice.  As a result, if the date of loss is October 18, 2012, Martinez is barred from maintaining a breach of contract claim.  The Court notes however, that in her affidavit, Martinez has abandoned any claim that the loss occurred on October 18, 2012.  Specifically, Martinez avers that “I do not know where the October 18, 2012 Date of Loss came from.  I did not provide that date to State Farm.”  Thus, it is clear that Martinez does not assert any causes of action arising from a loss on October 18, 2012.  To the extent that Martinez’s original petition alleged claims arising from an October 18, 2012 claim and State Farm’s handling of that claim, State Farm is entitled to summary judgment.

State Farm’s second argument is that if August 13, 2014 is the date of loss, Martinez is barred from maintaining a breach of contract claim because there was no insurance coverage on that date.  Indeed, State Farm’s summary judgment evidence establishes that Martinez’s insurance coverage ceased on July 3, 2013 due to non-payment of premiums.  As a result, Martinez cannot assert any claims arising from an August 13, 2014 loss or State Farm’s handling of such claim.

Summary Judgment granted in favor of State Farm.

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