On June 9, 2016, Jay Davis presented to the American Law Firm Association (ALFA) at its bi-annual conference on Professional Liability in New York, New York. Jay presented a mock trial on how to “win the difficult case.” The conference was attended by attorneys, corporate counsel. and insurance carriers from across the country.
ALFA International is a global legal network. With 145 member firms across the globe (80 in the United States). ALFA is the premier global network of independent law firms whose success is driven by broad, deep, local relationships all over the world.
In the case of Hoffman v. Seneca Insurance Company, et. al., the South Carolina Court of Appeals recently upheld a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of our client, Seneca Insurance Company. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s finding that Mr. Hoffman’s claim for extensive property damage caused by raccoons, mice and one or more snakes within the ductwork in his law office was not covered by his insurance policy, which contained an “animal exclusion.” Mr. Hoffman is an attorney who practices law in a mostly rural part of Beaufort County known as St. Helena Island. An undeveloped wooded tract adjoins Mr. Hoffman’s property. His ductwork became infested with these various animals, all of which apparently preferred the living conditions in his ductwork over life in the wild.
Mr. Hoffman reported animal feces dropping from his overhead HVAC vents into his work space. A snake skin was photographed hanging from an overhead vent. He even described an incident where a raccoon growled at him through a vent grate. After investigating his claim, Seneca denied coverage, citing an “animal exclusion” in his policy. Within weeks of the denial, Mr. Hoffman sued Seneca, his local insurance broker and the independent adjusting company. Mr. Hoffman engaged in an amazing array of verbal and linguistic gymnastics in an effort to avoid the inescapable impact of his policy’s exclusion. When it became apparent that Seneca would be able to prove conclusively that MICE, RACCOONS AND SNAKES WERE, IN FACT, “ANIMALS,” he shifted his focus to his insurance broker, contending that the broker failed to procure for him identical or superior coverage which he had enjoyed through his prior carrier. He vehemently argued that his claim would have been covered under his prior policy. Discovery revealed that his prior policy contained the exact same exclusion.
Mr. Hoffman convinced two trial judges to recuse themselves from his case, and he appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the adjuster the morning his trial against Seneca was to begin. The trial courts would not proceed to trial, and would not hear our summary judgment motion, because Mr. Hoffman demanded that both available judges recuse themselves. Weeks later, a visiting judge heard our motion and ruled that Mr. Hoffman’s property damage resulted from infestation by mice, raccoons and perhaps other critters, all of which the judge found to be ANIMALS!
Mr. Hoffman appealed, and the case percolated through the appellate system. The Court of Appeals decided the case without oral argument in an unpublished opinion 2016-UP-248. Although the opinion cannot be cited as precedential authority in other unrelated litigation, it addresses many familiar legal principles, including non-appealability of an order denying summary judgment, issue preservation at trial as a prerequisite to appellate review, and construction of unambiguous contractual terms. The opinion can be viewed by clicking here.
We do not know whether the animal infestation continues to this day, including the infamous growling raccoon.
YCRLAW is delighted to welcome Sylvia Maddox to the firm as an associate attorney. Sylvia graduated from Charleston School of Law in 2012 and litigated claims on behalf of plaintiffs before joining YCRLAW. Sylvia will practice primarily in the firm’s Construction Law Group.
YCRLAW is pleased to announce that attorney Raymond W. Burroughs has returned to YCRLAW as special counsel in the Banking and Business Litigation, Commercial Transactions and Real Estate, and Tax, Estate Planning and Probate practice groups. Raymond, who had already earned an L.L.M. in Tax Law, departed the firm in 2013 to pursue a Masters in Accounting degree. Having obtained that degree, and having subsequently served in positions with corporate entities, Raymond returns to YCRLAW. We look forward to Raymond’s contributions to our firm as he resumes his duties here.
YCRLAW partner Stephen L. Brown received the 2016 Client Choice award from Lexology and the International Law Office (ILO).
Established in 2005, the Client Choice awards recognize partners around the world that stand apart for their excellent client service. Uniquely, these awards survey in-house senior corporate counsel only, inquiring about quality of legal advice, value delivered, commercial awareness, and effective communication. Following one-on-one interviews with clients, this year’s winners were chosen from a pool of more than 2,000 individual client assessments. Only one attorney in each market is recognized for any particular practice area.
Stephen practices in the firm’s Charleston, South Carolina office and is a chair of the firm’s Commercial and Appellate Litigation Practice Group. His litigation practice has an emphasis in real property disputes, construction disputes, consumer lending, contract disputes, estate litigation, and other commercial torts. In addition, Stephen and his team regularly argue cases before the appellate courts of South Carolina as well as the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Client Choice recognized Stephen in the litigation category for South Carolina.
Launched in 1998, ILO is the nexus where global corporate counsel engage with the world’s pre-eminent law firms, and each other. ILO is a multifaceted online resource for senior international corporate counsel, which provides tailored, quality-assured updates on global legal developments, a database of the world’s major deals and the legal advisers involved, and a comprehensive directory of firms and partners. Recognizing its unique relationship with global corporate counsel, many of the world’s premier associations have chosen to partner with ILO.
Launched in 2007, Lexology is a daily newsfeed of law firm client alerts, articles, and blogs delivered to the desktops of senior business lawyers worldwide on a daily basis. Lexology has built a unique audience of over 22,800 subscribers, over 60 percent of whom are in-house corporate counsel representing the vast majority of Fortune 500, FT Global 500 and FT Euro 500 companies – including all members of the Association of Corporate Counsel.
D. Jay Davis, Jr. has been asked to be a plenary speaker at the ALFA 2016 EPL & PROFESSIONAL LIABILITY Annual Seminar in New York, New York. Mr. Davis will present a mock trial to attendees on how to win the “bad facts case.” This abbreviated mock trial will provide attendees the opportunity to observe him cross-examine and rehabilitate witnesses in a professional liability case.
Mr. Davis has also been asked to speak at the 2016 Winter meeting of the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel in San Diego, California. His topic is “Welcome to the Wild West: Arbitrating Professional and Medical Liability Cases.” He will focus on the pros and cons of arbitration and innovative approaches to compelling and participating in Arbitration.
YCRLAW has recently had some great successes for our clients. Here are a few of them:
Jim Scott and Perry Buckner obtained summary judgment in a dental malpractice claim.
Jay Davis, Jim Scott, and Perry Buckner obtained summary judgment for a local physician in a case alleging mental and emotional injury and loss arising from ECT treatment.
Jay Davis, Jim Scott, and Perry Buckner obtained summary judgment for a local rheumatologist in a cancer misdiagnosis claim.
Steve Brown and Perry Buckner obtained a dismissal of a putative class action claim alleging improper notices of sale for repossession of automobiles.
Carol Ervin and Brian Quisenberry recently obtained summary judgment in two federal court cases arising out of complex civil rights claims filed against their client.
YCRLAW attorneys, Michael A. Molony and T. Douglas Concannon, recently wrote this article entitled Another South Carolina First about South Carolina being the first to license an SPFC. An SPFC, or Special Purpose Financial Captive, is a captive insurance company formed specifically to reinsure the risk of an affiliate or parent company, usually a life insurance company. Please contact Michael or Doug with any questions about SPFCs.
Paul W. Garfinkel, former OSHA State Judge and Family Court Judge for the 9th Judicial Circuit, has recently been appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives as a member of The South Carolina Council on the Holocaust. This Council is designed to honor Holocaust survivors as well as to develop an educational program to prevent similar future atrocities.