Sunday, April 1, 2018
NORTHFIELD INSURANCE COMPANY VS. MT. HAWLEY INSURANCE A-1771-16T4
NORTHFIELD INSURANCE COMPANY VS. MT. HAWLEY INSURANCE
The court considered, among other things, whether a third party may take advantage of an estoppel doctrine – first recognized in Merchants Indemnity Corp. v. Eggleston, 37 N.J. 114 (1962) –
that has been found to apply when an insurer, while reserving its rights or declining coverage, fails to clearly seek its insured's consent to the insurer's control of the defense. The court held that the insurer here could not, as a matter of law, be estopped from denying coverage because there was no clear evidence that the defunct insured changed its position to its detriment even if the insurer assumed the defense without consent. The court also rejected the argument that Eggleston permits avoidance of estoppel only if the insurer uses certain magic words in communicating with its insured; the insurer's disclaiming letter, which expressed the insurer's "willingness" to provide a "courtesy defense," could reasonably be interpreted as conveying an offer rather than a unilateral declaration of a right to control the defense. Consequently, the court reversed the summary judgment entered in favor of the parties seeking estoppel – the victim of the insured's alleged negligence and its property-damage insurer.