In T-Mobile USA Inc. v. Selective Ins. Co. of Am., 450 P.3d 150 (Wash. 2019) the Washington Supreme Court addressed whether an insurance company is bound by its agent’s written representation—made in a certificate of insurance—that a particular corporation is an additional insured under a given policy. The question arose in a case where: (1) the Ninth Circuit had already ruled that the agent acted with apparent authority, but (2) the agent’s representation turned out to be inconsistent with the policy and (3) the certificate of insurance included additional text broadly disclaiming the certificate’s ability to “amend, extend or alter the coverage afforded by” the policy. According to the Court, under Washington law the answer is yes: an insurance company is bound by the representation of its agent in those circumstances. Otherwise, the Court reasoned, an insurance company’s representations would be meaningless and it could mislead without consequence.
At the heart of this case were two T-Mobiles entities: T-Mobile USA and T-Mobile Northeast (“T-Mobile NE”), which were distinct legal entities. T-Mobile NE engaged a contractor to construct a cell phone tower on a rooftop in New York City. The contract between T-Mobile NE and the contractor required the contractor to obtain a general liability insurance policy, to annually provide T-Mobile NE “with certificates of insurance evidencing [that policy’s] coverage,” and to name T-Mobile NE as an additional insured under the policy. T-Mobile USA was not a party to the contract, but was nonetheless aware of it and approved the contract as to form.
The contractor obtained the required insurance policy from Selective. The policy provided that a third party would automatically become an “additional insured” under the policy if the contractor and the third party entered into their own contract that required the contractor to add the third party to its insurance policy as an additional insured. Because T-Mobile USA did not have a contract with the contractor, it did not automatically become an additional insured under the policy. Nevertheless, over the course of several years, Selective’s agent issued a series of certificates of insurance to “T-Mobile USA Inc., its Subsidiaries and Affiliates” that stated that those entities were “included as an additional insured [under the policy] with respect to” certain areas of coverage. The agent signed those certificates as Selective’s “Authorized Representative.”