The Ninth Circuit found that under California law, the excess carrier acted in bad faith by refusing to either approve the underlying settlement or take over the defense. Teleflex Med. Inc., v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 4996 (9th Cir. March 21, 2017).
The insured, LMA North America, Inc., distributed laryngeal mask airway products. In 2007, LMA brought a patent infringement suit against Ambu related to certain laryngeal masks. Ambu counterclaimed, demanding $28 million for trade disparagement and false advertising claims. Transcontinental Insurance Company (CNA), the primary carrier, agreed to defend LMA.
In 2011, the parties mediated. CNA attended the mediation, but National Union, LMA's excess carrier, did not. LMA's counsel gave daily reports to update National Union on the mediation. A conditional settlement was reached under which Ambu would pay LMA $8.75 million for the patent claims while LMA would pay Ambu $4.75 million for the disparagement claims. The settlement was conditioned on LMA's ability to obtain approval from CNA and National Union.
CNA committed its full $1 million limit, but National Union was reluctant to recognize that Ambu's counterclaims could invade its coverage layer. LMA continued to provide reports and justification to National Union for the settlement amount. LMA's defense counsel felt the risk of damages was substantially in excess of $10 million.
Eventually, LMA finalized the settlement with Ambu and notified National Union. National Union advised that it would take over the defense of the underlying suit if LMA could "undo" the settlement. LMA responded that the executed settlement could not be undone.
LMA then sued National Union for breach of contract and bad faith. National Union moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had the absolute right to veto the settlement under the excess policy's "no voluntary payments" and "no action" clauses. The policy provided that the insured could not voluntarily make a payment to settle without the consent of National Union. Further, the "no action" clause provided that "there will be no right of action against us unless. . . the amount you owe has been determined with our consent or by actual trial and final judgment."
The district court denied National Union's summary judgment motion. The district court relied upon Diamond Heights Homeowners Assoc. v Nat' Am. Ins. Co., 227 Cal. App. 3d 563 (1991). There, the state court ruled that an "excess insurer may waive its rights under a no action clause if it rejects a reasonable settlement and at the same time fails to offer to undertake the defense." Thereafter, the case proceeded to trial and the jury found for LMA on both the breach of contract and bad faith claims, but decided not to award punitive damages.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Although National Union argued that Diamond Heights was not the controlling case, the Ninth Circuit disagreed and believed the California Supreme Court would follow Diamond Heights. The court also disagreed with National Union's contention that LMA should have been required to prove its contract claim by clear and convincing evidence rather than the preponderance of evidence.