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Liberty Insurance Corp to Pay $7.5 Million in Wrongful Death Claim

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The Missouri Appellate court has issued a verdict in the case of Sheyann Geiler v. Liberty Insurance Corp. The Court has awarded in favor of the primary insurer, Starr Indemnity & Liability Co., and Richard Geiler’s family, in a wrongful death claim of $7.5 million from the Liberty umbrella insurance policy.

On September 26, 2015, Richard Geiler was ejected from a vehicle owned by Sharpe Holdings, Inc. At that time, Geiler was a resident of the Heartland Men’s Recovery Center, a rehabilitation program run by CNS International Ministries Inc. As a part of its ‘Work Dynamic’ program, CNS required Geiler to work at Sharpe’s dairy farm, where he sustained the injuries.

Sharpe was insured by Liberty’s umbrella policy, which provided that it “will pay those sums in excess of the ‘retained limit’ that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of ‘bodily injury.’” The underlying insurance for ‘Employers Liability’ identified by the Liberty Policy is the Starr Policy, which provides a coverage limit of $10 million to the insurer.

In 2016, the family filed a wrongful death claim against Sharpe and CNS, alleging that Geiler’s death resulted from their negligence. The following year, the court issued a judgment approving the settlement with CNS, a partial settlement with Sharpe, and a separate judgment against Sharpe for $9.5 million.

After Starr paid the $2 million settlement, the family filed a suit against Liberty and Sharpe. Liberty filed a lawsuit against Starr, accusing the party of equitable subrogation,breach of contract, and negligence. The Court held that Liberty had wrongfully failed to defend Sharpe “and that it was bound by the determinations of the Wrongful Death Court.”

The trial court granted motions for a summary judgment, but Liberty argued that the Court erred in this decision without permitting the insurer to engage in discovery. Nevertheless, the Court commented that Liberty failed even to mention a 19-page rulingby the trial court denying its motion previously.

Judge W. Douglas Thomson, writing for the panel, affirmed the lower court judgments earlier this month in favor of the plaintiffs – Starr and Geiler’s family – and asked Liberty to satisfy the $7.5 million balance of the $9.5 million wrongful death judgment claim.

“By failing to file a sur-reply, Liberty admitted those additional material facts set forth in plaintiffs ‘Further Statement of Additional Uncontroverted Material Facts,'” the panel stated. “Thus, there is no genuine issue of material fact as to Geiler’s lack of involvement in the ongoing operations of CNS Ministries at the time of his fatal injury.”