I recently wrote a post regarding a new class action in Pennsylvania against Erie Insurance Exchange. The suit alleges failure to pay expense reimbursement coverage under auto policies, which provides for reimbursement for expenses and/or lost wages incurred by the insured in assisting with defending a lawsuit. One of my readers helpfully pointed out that the Ohio Supreme Court decided a case on this issue last year. In Kincaid v. Erie Insurance Company, the insured never asked for such reimbursement of expenses and last wages. Rather, his contention appeared to be that the insurer should have proactively attempted to find out what the expenses were and reimburse them. The Ohio Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, held that there was no justiciable controversy because the insured had never presented a claim for these expenses, and the insurer had not denied the claim. The court wrote that “it defies common sense to expect an insurer to pay for incidental expenses that it does not know its insured incurred.” There were three separate dissenting opinions, chiefly concluding that this was an inappropriate issue to decide on the pleadings, where the insured had alleged that all conditions precedent to coverage were satisfied. One of the dissenters also concluded that where the policy was silent on how the insured should seek reimbursement, it was ambiguous, and filing of a lawsuit could be sufficient notice to the insurer of a claim.
Kincaid is significant because it is common in insurance class actions for a plaintiff to assert that an insurer improperly failed to pay some small portion of a claim, where there was no request for payment before the lawsuit was filed. Kincaid supports an argument that where the insured never presented a claim for the expenses that are the basis of the class action, and thus never provided the insurer with an opportunity to pay that claim, there is no justiciable controversy. This line of argument will not work in every context, but it is a potentially viable defense to some insurance class actions.