Staying the Course, Texas Supreme Court Rejects Insurer’s Argument for Exception to Eight-Corners Rule in Determining Duty to Defend

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The eight-corners rule generally provides that Texas courts may only consider the four corners of the petition and the four corners of the applicable insurance policy when determining whether a duty to defend exists.

April 27, 2020
John C. Eichman, Sergio F. Oehninger, Grayson L. Linyard & Leah B. Nommensen - Hunton Insurance Recovery Blog

In responding to a certified question from the Fifth Circuit in Richards v. State Farm Lloyds, the Texas Supreme Court held that the “policy-language exception” to the eight-corners rule articulated by the federal district court is not a permissible exception under Texas law. See Richards v. State Farm Lloyds, 19-0802, 2020 WL 1313782, at *1 (Tex. Mar. 20, 2020). The eight-corners rule generally provides that Texas courts may only consider the four corners of the petition and the four corners of the applicable insurance policy when determining whether a duty to defend exists. State Farm argued that a “policy-language exception” prevents application of the eight-corners rule unless the insurance policy explicitly requires the insurer to defend “all actions against its insured no matter if the allegations of the suit are groundless, false or fraudulent,” relying on B. Hall Contracting Inc. v. Evanston Ins. Co., 447 F. Supp. 2d 634, 645 (N.D. Tex. 2006). The Texas Supreme Court rejected the insurer’s argument, citing Texas’ long history of applying the eight-corners rule without regard for the presence or absence of a “groundless-claims” clause.

The underlying dispute in Richards concerned whether State Farm must defend its insureds, Janet and Melvin Richards, against claims of negligent failure to supervise and instruct after their 10-year old grandson died in an ATV accident. The Richardses asked State Farm to provide a defense to the lawsuit by their grandson’s mother and, if necessary, to indemnify them against any damages. To support its argument that no coverage under the policy existed, and in turn, it had no duty to defend, State Farm relied on: (1) a police report to prove the location of the accident occurred off the insured property; and (2) a court order detailing the custody arrangement of the deceased child to prove the child was an insured under the policy. The federal district court held that the eight-corners rule did not apply, and thus extrinsic evidence could be considered regarding the duty to defend, because the policy did not contain a statement that the insurer would defend “groundless, false, or fraudulent” claims. In light of the extrinsic police report and extrinsic custody order, the district court granted summary judgment to State Farm.

Reprinted courtesy of Hunton Andrews Kurth attorneys John C. Eichman, Sergio F. Oehninger, Grayson L. Linyard and Leah B. Nommensen

Mr. Oehninger may be contacted at soehninger@HuntonAK.com
Mr. Linyard may be contacted at glinyard@HuntonAK.com
Ms. Nommensen may be contacted at leahnommensen@HuntonAK.com



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