The Eleventh Most Important Insurance Coverage Decision of 2006

End of the year lists, to alter an old off color joke, are like opinions: everyone, it seems this time of year, has one. Some are superficial, silly and cursory, like this one here, and others, like Randy Maniloff’s list discussed in my last post, are substantive. For those of you who couldn’t get enough of Randy’s breakdown of the leading coverage decisions issued in the last year, David Rossmiller has his own interesting take on Randy’s top ten list here, including David’s wish that one of his favorite cases - from the Hurricane Katrina coverage cases - had made the list. For myself, I would have included a recent decision out of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in the list of top ten decisions, in which the state’s highest court cabined a developing trend in Massachusetts court decisions shifting the insured’s costs of litigating coverage disputes onto the insurer, at least in cases where the insured prevails in establishing coverage. I discussed that case here.

And why would I have included it in a list like Randy’s? Because beyond just its holding, I think, when you combine it with other decisions out of that particular court in the last year or so, you see a court beginning to rethink a tendency reflected in the state’s common law to favor insureds in coverage disputes, and to disconnect insurance coverage law from contract doctrines and the actual terms of the insurance policy to do so. We see, in cases such as this one, a swinging back of the pendulum, towards a more level field in the courtroom, at least at this point in this state. Time will tell whether this trend is real, and if it is, the results themselves will tell us whether it is a good thing. But for me, having watched a few generations of the Supreme Judicial Court approach this subject area in differing ways, this is what I make of the recent run of decisions out of that court.

And maybe, in honor of New Year’s, that is my own little take on the crystal ball: that we will see this trend continue in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, with an inevitable trickling down to the state’s intermediate appellate bench and its trial courts.