The Superior Court of Justice recently released an important decision finding full indemnity costs payable in a coverage case.
In the underlying action, a young boy was severely injured by a car after his father dropped him off in a parking lot. The boy (via his litigation guardian) and the boy’s mother (via the Family Law Act) sued the father for damages. The father’s insurer found a duty to defend and the insurer’s counsel represented him at trial. At trial, over $900,000.00 in damages were awarded. Following the trial, the father’s insurer denied coverage.
The mother and boy brought a claim against the father’s insurer under section 258(1) of the Insurance Act, which allows parties to bring a claim to enforce judgment against insurers. At the summary judgment motion, the court found that there was coverage.
The significance of Hoang v. The Personal Insurance Company is the court’s determination on costs. The court found costs payable to the mother and boy on a full indemnity scale, rather than the usual partial indemnity scale.
The court rationalized the full indemnity on the basis that the insurance premium is presumed to reflect the insurance company’s risk. It would be unfair and burdensome to make customers pay a premium plus legal fees in order to obtain the coverage they purchased. If the insurer chooses to attempt to reduce its risk by engaging in coverage litigation, it should be made to fully compensate the successful party if it losses. Ultimately, the court ordered the insurer to pay full indemnity costs at $72,000.00.
This decision marks a possibly new exception to the general policy of awarding partial indemnity costs to successful parties. It is something that both coverage counsel for insurers and policy holders need to keep in mind moving forward, as denying coverage under a policy now can apparently be very costly.