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West Virginia Partner Obtains Declaratory Judgment in Coverage Claim

Barboursville partner J. Philip Fraley recently obtained summary judgment in a declaratory judgment action heard in Harrison County Circuit Court on behalf of an insurance company client that was seeking to limit insurance coverage to the state of West Virginia’s statutory minimum.

This case involved a traffic crash in which a customer of a used car dealership in Clarksburg, West Virginia, was test driving a car that was for sale. The dealership had general liability insurance; however, the coverage was limited to the state statutory minimum for auto liability claims involving a “customer” of the dealership. Plaintiffs opposed application of the reduction in policy limits on the grounds that the term “customer” is ambiguous, and the reduction of the policy limits violated West Virginia’s public policy.

Litchfield Cavo partner Phil Fraley contended that the term “customer” was not ambiguous and that Plaintiffs were judicially estopped from claiming the driver was not a customer because they stated he was a customer in their complaint. He also maintained that the West Virginia Legislature established the public policy of the state in regard to auto insurance coverage by passing the state’s financial responsibility laws and setting a minimum amount of insurance. In September 2021, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of our client.

Phil has extensive experience defending auto and trucking liability matters, and insurance coverage claims. He also handles matters in the areas of construction defect, premises and products liability, workers’ compensation and medical malpractice. Additionally, Phil defends asbestos and toxic tort clients, and has experience handling physical and sexual abuse cases. He also counsels clients on contracts, bad faith and dram shop matters.