The California Second District Court of Appeal had occasion to examine an insurer’s duty to provide independent counsel (“Cumis counsel”) to its insured in a declaratory relief action entitled Nede Management, Inc. v. Aspen American Insurance Company. The action arose from a fire on a property covered by an insurance policy issued by Aspen American Ins. Co (“Aspen”). Aspen’s insureds were sued for wrongful death and negligence by tenants and squatters allegedly injured by the fire.
Aspen defended three individual members of the family who owned the property and the family business, Nede Management, Inc. (“Nede”), which managed the property. The defense was subject to reservations of rights on the lack of an obligation to pay any judgment in excess of the $1 million policy limits and no coverage for punitive damages. Aspen appointed defense counsel to defend its insureds. The insureds sought independent counsel based on the assertion that defense counsel appointed by the insurer defended the action inadequately, failed to communicate an initial settlement demand within policy limits and failed to fully investigate the case. Aspen did provide Cumis counsel to Nede for a period but terminated the arrangement after revoking its reservation of rights to that entity. The underlying case eventually settled at no cost to the insureds.