Nebraska Trial in Florida Insolvent Insurer Case Put on Hold

By | February 25, 2009

The Nebraska Supreme Court has ordered a judge to put a new trial on hold in a multimillion-dollar insurance dispute and follow the high court’s ruling from last summer.

Last June, the Supreme Court threw out the nearly $4.7 million a Douglas County judge ordered Omaha-based Countrywide Insurance Agency to pay to Florida. The Supreme Court said a jury, not Judge Peter Bataillon, should have decided the case.

Bataillon dismissed the jury in 2006 after a seven-day trial and ordered Countrywide to repay $2.23 million in premiums owed to the United Southern Assurance Co. and pay $2.44 million in interest.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer, Bataillon ordered a new trial on all the issues in the case.

In an order issued Friday, Chief Justice Mike Heavican said Bataillon should explain within 14 days why a new trial on all issues is appropriate.

Attorney William Gast, who represents Countrywide and its owner, David Fulkerson, said in court documents the high court had rejected most of the issues Florida raised except whether Countrywide intended to commit fraud. So if a new trial does occur, he said Monday, it should be limited to the fraud issue.

Florida became involved in the case in 1997 because its Department of Insurance took over an insolvent Florida insurance company, United Southern Assurance, that had been doing business with Countrywide Truck Insurance. The lawsuit was originally filed in 1998.

Countrywide Truck Insurance and United Southern were both owned by the same parent company, Concord General Corp. Fulkerson managed Countrywide Truck before the company’s assets were transferred over to his new company, Countrywide Insurance.

Florida maintains that Countrywide Insurance kept money that was owed to United Southern, but Countrywide and Fulkerson deny taking any money fraudulently.

Most of the money involved in the dispute came from premiums Countrywide Truck collected and was supposed to send to United Southern. But when Florida officials ordered United Southern to stop writing insurance policies in 1997, Countrywide Truck did not hand over four months of premiums.

The Supreme Court said Countrywide presented evidence that the missing premium money was either returned to customers or applied to new insurance policies with a different company. So it’s not clear fraud was committed, the court said.

The Supreme Court has already issued three rulings on issues in the case. In two of its earlier rulings, the Nebraska Supreme Court addressed pretrial motions in the dispute.

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On the Net:

Nebraska Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourt.ne.gov

Topics Carriers Auto Florida Fraud Nebraska

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