ACUITY v. Johnson,, No. 13-2915 (8th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Johnson’s trucking business operated 1986 and 1987 semi-tractor trucks, with one truck at a time insured through Acuity. In 2009, Johnson called Acuity’s agent, Holden, to switch insurance coverage to the 1987 truck. The 1987 truck broke down the next day. Johnson called Holden to switch the insurance back to the 1986 truck. A year later, Johnson's 1986 truck, pulling a J&B trailer, collided with Marlow’s vehicle, causing her death. Western insured the trailer. Holden claimed that Johnson had called in February 2010 and requested to switch coverage to the 1987 truck. Johnson denied ever making that request. At trial, Johnson pointed out that the 1987 truck remained inoperable; Johnson operated the 1986 truck throughout 2010. Johnson’s February 2010, renewal policy identified the 1986 International as covered. Johnson advised J&B that he would use the 1986 truck. Acuity and Johnson settled. The court denied Acuity’s motion to dismiss Johnson. Western's cross-claim against him remained pending; Johnson had assigned his claims against Western to Acuity and Acuity agreed to indemnify Johnson. Acuity paid $561,000 to Marlow’s estate and sought reimbursement. The court viewed the dispute as whether Johnson instructed Holden to change the coverage and rejected Acuity’s claim that Western lacked standing. The jury found that Johnson did not request a change. The court declared that Acuity had to provide primary insurance coverage. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, agreeing that the controversy did not concern contract reformation and upholding the district court's decision to allow Johnson to participate at trial.
Court Description: Civil case - Insurance. Western National adequately pleaded its theory of the case and the district court did not err in denying Acuity's motion in limine; Western National had standing as a potential excess insurer to challenge the interpretation and application of contract terms between Acuity and the insured even if it was not a party to that insurance contract; the district court did not err in rejecting Acuity's requests for instructions regarding contract reformation as the case pivoted on the question of whether Acuity had removed a vehicle from coverage without the insured's consent rather than the question of contract reformation; the court did not err in allowing the insured to participate in the case after he settled with Acuity, as his participation was de minimus and did not adversely affect the jury verdict.