We have activity in the Federal Case O’Keefe v State Farm and this time due to a somewhat unlikely source, the Mississippi Supreme Court. This is a good topic because it appears from the conduct of the Corban proceedings the Court is once again deciding cases based on legal precedent which had become somewhat of a rarity in recent years as Chamber of Commerce approved justices like Jess Dickinson issued several very curious rulings such as in Jenkins holding the statute of limitations for a wrongful death case begins at the point of injury rather than the death itself in a ruling that favored a corporate defendent at the expense of the deceased family as the deceased evidently lingered and lived too long after the injury for his estate to sue. The public spectacle of Mississippi’s highest court beclowning itself lead to a reversal of Jenkins though I suspect the family remains SoL, forever shafted by Justice Dickinson.
Such behavior out of this State’s highest court explains why I had no confidence the Supremes would do justice in Corban but I’ll admit I was very pleasantly surprised, especially that Justice Dickinson actually asked intelligent questions during the proceedings and appeared to be open to the law, no doubt with an eye to the electoral calender. Regardless of the reason I almost suffered a heart attack when I read the latest from O’Keefe and then discovered Justice Dickinson voted with the other justices to reverse a badly decided case against an insurer where the agent made material misrepresentations to the customer. The agent’s legal arguments that the cause of action was time barred due to the statute of limitations had originally prevailed in the lower courts. For the State Farm agent in question in O’Keefe, this ruling could not have come at a worse time.
Nowdy covered the legal arguments of SF agent Marshall Eleuterius that the O’Keefe’s claim against him was time barred due to the Statute of Limitations in a post from this past Monday. The Thursday before, however, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling in Weathers v Met Life detailed above was handed down and team O’Keefe wasted no time letting the Federal Court know about Weathers and the nitty gritty details in the case, especially the parts where Stephens v Equitable was too restrictive:
Perhaps most important to the case at bar, the Mississippi Supreme Court noted the Court of Appeals relied upon Stephens vs. Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, 850 So.2d 78, 84 (Miss. 2003) for the proposition that “the statute of limitations accrues upon the completion of the sale of the insurance policy”. Weathers, at ¶ 16. This Honorable Court likewise relied upon the noted language in Stephens for support of its holding that “where the alleged misconduct occurs during contract formation, the limitations period begins to run upon the purchase of the policy”, in Poole vs. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 2007 WL 4287534,*4 (S.D. Miss. 2007) – a case cited and relied upon heavily by Eleuterius in the subject motion. The Mississippi Supreme Court has now held that such a conclusion is “erroneous and more restrictive than was intended by this Court [with regard to its pronouncement of the law about when the statute of limitations begins to run in Stephens].” Weathers, at ¶ 16 (emphasis added). The Court noted “there may be a genuine issue of material fact” about whether the alleged misrepresentation(s) at the time of contract formation are inconsistent with the plain language of the insurance policy….
A Leonard v Nationwide litigation footnote involved agent misrepresentations of the need for flood coverage. I do not remember if they asserted a claim against the agent or if it was shot down because of earlier reliance on bad case law. I do know that misrepresentations made by insurance agents selling coverage in Mississippi that rise to the level of a tort are no longer protected by the misapplication of the statute of limitations here in Mississippi.
One final point that I’m making in fairness to the P&C insurers is that a glance at these State Court cases that set the legal standard on this issue involve life insurers. To the buying public of these various life insurance products the phrase Caveat emptor comes to mind as something to remember when purchasing these financial instruments.