Insurance Law And Trials

Here is a situation where the insured won at the trial level of the case but ended up losing on appeal.  The case is from the Amarillo Court of Appeals and is styled, State Farm Lloyds v. Robert MacKeen and Rebecca MacKeen.

The facts in the case are not particularly long or confusing but there were certain aspects of the case wherein State Farm admittedly did not handle the claim properly and as a result State Farm paid the damages incurred plus penalty pursuant to the Texas Insurance Code, Prompt Payment of Claims Act.

However, there were other parts of the claim that were still in dispute and the resulting lawsuit went to trial.  The jury in the MacKeen’s case found in the MacKeen’s favor and this appeal followed.

The appeal point centered on the jury charge that was presented to the jury for deciding issues and damages in the case.  The relevant part of this charge stated:

You are instructed that the Court has found that State Farm Lloyds failed to comply with the Homeowners Policy.

From a legal standpoint, a trial court’s decision to submit an instruction is reviewed for abuse of discretion.  An instruction is proper if it assists the jury, is supported by the pleadings or evidence, and accurately states the law.  The essential question is whether the instruction or definition aids the jury in answering questions.

A trail court makes a direct comment on the weight of the evidence if it submits an issue suggesting to the jury the trial court’s opinion on the matter.

The record makes clear that the court was led to instruct the jury regarding State Farm’s failure to comply with the policy by the undisputed evidence it did not timely pay for losses to the personal property and the a temporary electrical repair.  In discussing this issue, the trial court stated, “So I’m going to find as a matter of law that State Farm has violated or failed to comply with the homeowners policy and I am going to enter an instructed verdict in that regard on the issue of liability.”

In this case there were different types of coverage under the policy.  The trial Court was correct as to some aspects of the coverage but was not correct as to other aspects of the coverage.

This appeals Court ruled that the instruction caused the rendition of an improper judgment as to the parts of the case that were in issue.

State Farm’s request for a new trial was granted.