New York Appellate Court Holds Insurer’s Failure to Defend Does Not Constitute a “Reasonable Excuse” Required to Overturn Judgment

Judges behind bench illustration

The New York court’s decision raises questions about how claims adjusters are to effectively manage new claims to prevent a default judgment being entered against the insured.

January 21, 2019
Timothy Carroll & Anthony Miscioscia - White and Williams

A recent opinion by the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division (Second Department) highlights the potential risks for an insurer leaving an insured unrepresented while the insurer pursues other parties or insurers who may be primarily responsible for defending the insured. In refusing to overturn a default judgment entered against an insured while its insurer knew that a complaint had been filed but refused to defend, the New York court’s decision raises questions about how claims adjusters are to effectively manage new claims to prevent a default judgment being entered against the insured, while at the same time ensuring that the appropriate party or insurance company handles the insured’s defense.

In Kaung Hea Lee v. 354 Management Inc., 2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 7749 (N.Y. App. Div. Nov. 14, 2018) (354 Management) the underlying plaintiffs obtained a default judgment against the defendant insured due to its failure to answer the plaintiffs’ complaint. The plaintiffs then moved to determine the extent of damages to which they were entitled by virtue of the default judgment. The defendant opposed that motion, relying on an affidavit from a senior liability claims adjuster employed by the defendant’s insurer. “In the affidavit, the claim adjuster stated that she did not assign an attorney to answer the complaint because the codefendant . . . was contractually obligated to defend and indemnify the defendant [insured], and she had been attempting to have either [the codefendant] or its insurer provide an attorney” for the defendant. However, it was determined that the claims adjuster knew about the plaintiffs’ complaint two weeks after the plaintiffs served it on the defendant and months before the plaintiffs moved for default judgment. Despite this knowledge, the defendant’s insurer did not provide a defense or, apparently, obtain an extension of time to respond to the complaint, which led to the default judgment.

Reprinted courtesy of Timothy Carroll, White and Williams and Anthony Miscioscia, White and Williams
Mr. Carroll may be contacted at carrollt@whiteandwilliams.com
Mr. Miscioscia may be contacted at misciosciaa@whiteandwilliams.com



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