The Georgia Court of Appeals recently affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of Mountain Express Oil Company on its breach of contract claim against liability insurer, Southern Trust Insurance Company. Empire Petroleum brought claims against Mountain Express for breach of contract, injunctive relief, and libel or slander, among others. Mountain Express sought a defense to that lawsuit under its insurance policy with Southern Trust. Southern Trust contended that the insurance policy did not cover Empire’s non-libel/slander claims, and therefore reimbursed Mountain Express for only a portion of its attorneys’ fees. After the Empire lawsuit settled, Mountain Express sued Southern Trust for breach of contract and bad faith for failing to pay the remaining defense costs, contending that Southern Trust had a duty to defend the entire lawsuit.
The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Mountain Express on its breach of contract claim. Citing policy language stating that “[the insurer] will have the right and duty to defend the insured against any ‘suit’ seeking those damages,” the court held that Southern Trust was obligated to defend the entire lawsuit. Specifically, in reaching that conclusion, the court noted that by agreeing to defend any “suit,” not any “claim,” Southern Trust obligated itself to defend the entire lawsuit if any claim could be covered under the policy. Accordingly, Southern Trust breached the policy when it only agreed to defend some of the claims against its insured.
Reprinted courtesy of Lawrence J. Bracken II, Hunton Andrews Kurth, Michael S. Levine, Hunton Andrews Kurth and Alexander D. Russo, Hunton Andrews Kurth
Mr. Bracken may be contacted at lbracken@HuntonAK.com
Mr. Levine may be contacted at mlevine@HuntonAK.com