United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia
ROBERT W. CHRISTIE and AMANDA CHRISTIE, husband and wife, Plaintiffs,
ESTATE OF JAMES SCOTT WALRAVEN, deceased, JOHN DOE and/or JANE DOE, Administrator/Administratrix of THE ESTATE OF JAMES SCOTT WALRAVEN, deceased, CONTINENTAL CASUALTY COMPANY, INC., A/K/A CONTINENTAL CASUALTY COMPANY, A/K/A/ THE CONTINENTAL CORPORATION, AKA CNA GROUP LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY, an Illinois corporation; LOCKTON AFFINITY, LLC, a Missouri limited liability company; and COLUMBIA CASUALTY COMPANY, a subsidiary or affiliate of CONTINENTAL CASUALTY COMPANY, INC., an Illinois corporation, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
T. COPENHAVER, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
is the motion of plaintiffs Robert W. Christie and Amanda
Christie to bifurcate and stay all issues of damages and
liability in the plaintiffs' personal injury claims from
all matters relating to the plaintiffs' insurance
coverage, filed February 11, 2019. On March 25, 2019,
defendant Lockton Affinity, LLC filed a response in support
of the motion to bifurcate and stay, and defendants Columbia
Casualty Company and Continental Casualty Company filed a
motion for joinder in the motion to bifurcate and stay. The
motion for joinder is granted.
case arises from an automobile accident that occurred
November 15, 2017 on West Virginia State Route 2 near
Parkersburg, West Virginia. Compl. ¶ 1. James Scott
Walraven, an alleged uninsured driver, allegedly negligently
caused the accident by driving despite having an illness that
caused him to lose consciousness and, in this instance,
caused him to cross the double yellow centerline and collide
with the automobile driven by plaintiff Robert W. Christie.
Id. ¶¶ 22, 30. Mr. Walraven died in the
accident, and Mr. Christie suffered, inter alia, injuries
causing medical and related expenses amounting to
approximately $248, 101.84. Compl. ¶ 65.
Christie is the managing member of Extended Care Services,
LLC, which, at the time of the accident, was insured by
Continental Casualty Company under a comprehensive general
liability insurance policy, including one million
dollars' worth of bodily injury liability coverage for
non-owned automobiles. Id. ¶¶ 7, 11. Mr.
Christie made a claim under Extended Care Services, LLC's
insurance policy, which was denied. Id. ¶ 16,
Christie brings four counts against the defendants:
negligence of James Scott Walraven (Count I); coverage under
Extended Care Services, LLC's insurance policy (Count
damages (Count III); loss of consortium by Amanda Christie
(Count IV); violations of the West Virginia Unfair Trade
Practices Act (Count V); common law bad faith against
Continental Casualty Company (Count VI); and negligence and
breach of contract and fiduciary duties against Lockton
Affinity, LLC, the company which assisted Mr. Christie and
Extended Care Services, LLC in procuring the insurance policy
parties now seek to bifurcate Mr. Christie's coverage
claim -- Count II -- and stay the remaining issues. The
plaintiffs “contend that all matters concerning
insurance coverage should be litigated and discovered first
so that adjudication on those matters precedes the litigation
and discovery of liability and damages and all
extra-contractual claims which have been alleged.”
Plaintiffs' Memo. in Support, ECF # 32 at 2. Defendant
Lockton Affinity, LLC, agrees, stating that
“bifurcation of Count II from all other causes of
action is the most efficient and effective way to proceed . .
. [and] will be conducive to the expedient resolution of the
case, promote judicial economy and convenience, and avoid
prejudice.” Response in Support, ECF # 37 at 1-2.
Defendants Columbia Casualty Company and Continental Casualty
Company agree, stating that the “resolution of the
coverage issues is likely to resolve all other issues between
the parties, including the underlying liability and damages
related to the subject accident, the alleged
extracontractual, common law bad faith and statutory bad
faith[, ]” and that “bifurcation of Count II from
all other causes of action is the most efficient and
effective way to proceed; that it will be conducive to
expedition of the case, judicial economy and convenience; and
that it will avoid prejudice.” Motion for Joinder, ECF
# 38 at 1-2.
Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) provides as follows:
(b) Separate Trials. For convenience, to avoid prejudice, or
to expedite and economize, the court may order a separate
trial of one or more separate issues, claims, crossclaims,
counterclaims, or third-party claims. When ordering a
separate trial, the court must preserve any federal right to
a jury trial.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b). In Light v. Allstate Ins. Co., 203
W.Va. 27, 506 S.E.2d 64 (1998), the Supreme Court of Appeals
of West Virginia revisited its holding in State ex rel. State
Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Madden, 192 W.Va. 155, 451
S.E.2d 721 (1994). In Madden, it was implied that bifurcation
and stay of a third-party claim of bad faith against an
insurer are mandatory; however, the Light decision provides
that “in a first-party bad faith action . . . .,
bifurcation and stay of the bad faith claim from the
underlying action are not mandatory, ” thus leaving it
to the discretion of the court. Id. 203 W.Va. at 35,
506 S.E.2d at 72; see Scarberry v. Huffman, No. 3:10-0831,
2010 WL 4068923, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110239 (S.D. W.Va.
Oct. 15, 2010).
guide the trial court's exercise of discretion concerning
the propriety of a bifurcation and stay, Light contains six
applicable factors for consideration: (1) the number of
parties in the case, (2) the complexity of the underlying
case against the insurer, (3) whether undue prejudice would
result to the insured if discovery is stayed, (4) whether a
single jury will ultimately hear both bifurcated cases, (5)
whether partial discovery is feasible on the bad faith claim
and (6) the burden placed on the trial court by imposing a
stay on discovery. Id. The proponent of the stay and
bifurcation bears the burden of persuasion. Id.
plaintiffs contend that “not only are these factors
satisfied by the facts of this case, but the parties agree
that bifurcation is the best way to proceed.” ECF # 32
at 2. The court agrees. Particularly, inasmuch as the
plaintiffs are the party seeking bifurcation, they would not
suffer any undue prejudice if their motion is granted.
Moreover, the parties agree that partial discovery will be
more efficient and effective, and that a resolution of Count
II may resolve all other claims. Accordingly, and for further
reasons appearing to the court, it is ORDERED that the
plaintiffs' motion for bifurcation and stay be, and it
hereby is, granted.
further ORDERED that Count II be bifurcated from the
remaining counts, and that all discovery except that related
to Count II, be, and it hereby is, stayed until further order
of the court.