Delaware Personal Injury Case Could Affect West Virginia Litigation

According to a recently published legal news article, North River Insurance Company (“North River”) made an argument before the Delaware Supreme Court, claiming that the lower court erred in its decision not to enjoin Mine Safety Appliances Company (“Mine Safety”) from participating in litigation involving insurance coverage in the state of West Virginia, and from filing coverage claims in addition to those already pending in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Insurance Company Argument

North River argued that the lower court’s decision, that granting an injunction would not be an effective course of action, was erroneous, since it would effectively take Mine Safety out of the pending litigation in West Virginia, and litigation that is already underway in the states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. The insurance company pointed out that the rights at issue in Pennsylvania and Delaware are the same issues of coverage that exist in West Virginia.

Case Background

The case involves an issue over personal injury claims that were filed against Mine Safety, for which they are seeking coverage from North River for a number of judgments, settlements, and legal fees they incurred. North River argued they do not have to reimburse Mining Safety for these amounts, as their coverage was not properly triggered by the claims, at least in part because the injuries sustained did not occur within the coverage period.

Jurisdictional issues had to be sorted out early on in the case, with later proper filing in Pennsylvania and Delaware courts. The West Virginia actions were most recent, where plaintiffs sued North River directly under a relevant law in West Virginia, seeking a declaration of coverage. Mine Safety’s role in the West Virginia cases is generally limited to filing briefs along with plaintiffs’ claims against the insurance company, after reaching a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs themselves. It is these actions in West Virginia that North River sought to enjoin by taking legal action in Delaware, something the courts notes as unusual. The request also included partially staying the Delaware litigation while certain issues are decided in Pennsylvania.

Lower Court’s Decision and Appellate Arguments

Upon hearing these requests, the lower court in Delaware ruled that since they do not have jurisdiction over West Virginia plaintiffs, any declared injunction would be ineffective. Further, the court declined to take action in order to prevent any potential inconsistent rulings from the different states involved on the same issue.

In arguing the case to the appellate court, North River argued that if Mine Safety was precluded from participating in litigation in West Virginia, it is was at least unknown whether the plaintiffs would have gone forward with their claims. In addition, the insurance company conceded that they could have gone forward with the cases but that the legal actions were motivated by Mine Safety’s settlement offers.

Mine Safety, on the other hand, argued that the lower court’s reasoning was correct and that enjoining Mine Safety from participating in the claims in West Virginia would prove useless. Mine Safety contested the injunction because if the company was to be enjoined, it would lose the right to file cross claims in the West Virginia cases.

Defense Attorneys

The experienced attorneys at Hendrickson & Long PLLC have defended clients in cases covering various areas of the law, including insurance law, personal injury law, and products liability. Feel free to contact us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your matter. Our office is located in Charleston, West Virginia.