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In Deciding Whether An Insurance Company Has A Duty To Defend Its Insured, Will Nevada Courts Look Beyond The Four Corners Of The Complaint?

four cornersIn deciding whether an insurance company has a duty to defend its insured, courts have often said that they will not look beyond the “four corners” of the plaintiff’s complaint. If the allegations of the Complaint allege facts that fall within coverage, there is a duty to defend. If not, there is no duty.

In the case of United Nat’l Ins. Co. v. Frontier Ins. Co., 120 Nev. 678, 687, 99 P.3d 1153, 1158 (2004) the Nevada Supreme Court enunciated the rule it would follow in making the duty to defend decision. It said: “Determining whether an insurer owes a duty to defend is achieved by comparing the allegations of the complaint with the terms of the policy.”

However, some courts have been willing to look beyond the “four corners” of the complaint and examine extrinsic evidence to decide whether there was a duty to defend. The Court’s statement in United Nat’l Ins. Co. v. Frontier Ins. Co., does not specifically preclude an examination of facts outside the complaint.

There have been at least two decisions issued by the U.S. District Court, District of Nevada that have held that a court may look beyond the four corners of the complaint at the extrinsic evidence. United Nat’l Ins. Co. v. Assurance Co of Am., No. 2:10-CV-01086-MMD, 2012 WL 1931521, at *3 n. 2 (D. Nev. May 29, 2012) vacated due to settlement, No. 10-CV-1086-JAD-NJK, 2015 WL 2448711 (D. Nev. May 21, 2015) and Gary G. Day Constr. Co. v. Clarendon Am. Ins. Co., 459 F. Supp. 2d 1039, 1050 (D. Nev. 2006).

In Jaynes Corp. v. Am. Safety Indem. Co., 925 F. Supp. 2d 1095, 1103 (D. Nev., 2012) vacated due to settlement, No. 2:10-CV-00764-MMD, 2014 WL 8735102 (D. Nev. Dec. 3, 2014), the court said that the facts known by the insurer at the inception of a third party lawsuit must be taken into account in deciding the question of duty to defend.

However, many more decisions from the U.S. District Court for Nevada have followed the “four corners” test refusing to look beyond the complaint. See e.g., OneBeacon Ins. Co. v. ProBuilders Specialty Ins. Co., No. 3:09-CV-36-ECR-RAM, 2009 WL 2407705, at *8 (D. Nev. Aug. 3, 2009); Beazley Ins. Co. v. Am. Econ. Ins. Co., No. 2:12-CV-01720-JCM, 2013 WL 2245901, at *4 (D. Nev. May 21, 2013); Liberty Ins. Underwriters Inc. v. Scudier, 53 F. Supp. 3d 1308, 1315 (D. Nev. 2013); Discover Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Scudier, No. 2:12-CV-836-JCM-CWH, 2013 WL 2153079, at *4 (D. Nev. May 16, 2013).

In light of these cases, the U.S. District Court, District of Nevada has specifically stated that, if asked, “the Nevada Supreme Court would adopt the four corners rule” and would not look beyond the complaint and the policy. Andrew v. Century Sur. Co., No. 2:12-CV-00978-APG, 2014 WL 1764740, at * 6 (D. Nev. Apr. 29, 2014).

If you have questions about the duty to defend in Nevada, please contact Mike Mills at Bauman Loewe Witt & Maxwell either by phone at 702-240-6060 or by email at mmills@blwmlawfirm.com

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