The Court of Appeals for the Western District of Missouri recently handed down its decision in Yuncker et al. v. Dodds et al. in which it found that an insurer lacked standing to appeal the circuit court’s failure to rule on its motion to intervene filed after entry of judgment. This decision came on the heels of its previous decision in Henson et al. v. Merob Logistics, LLC et al. where it found a judgment was not final because the circuit court failed to rule on a motion to intervene filed before it entered judgment.
Both cases contained nearly identical fact patterns. Both cases involved tractor-trailer accidents involving trailers owned by Amazon.com, Inc. and insured by Zurich American Insurance Company. In both cases, the plaintiff settled with the tractor drivers, tractor owners, and their primary insurance providers without notifying Zurich. These non-execution agreements contained provisions that required the defendants to accept service of a lawsuit filed in Jackson County, Missouri, despite that court lacking jurisdiction and to arbitrate the matter if any other insurers did not agree to defend without reservation. The defendants would then send a “notice” to Zurich, and other insurance companies, which did not reference the then-pending lawsuit, the agreement to arbitrate, or Amazon, Zurich’s named insured. Once the insurer failed to respond or responded in any way other than agreeing to defend without reservation, the parties would then arbitrate the matter. Following arbitration, the parties then moved to confirm the arbitration award.
In the Henson case, the insurer discovered the pending matter and moved to intervene before the trial court entered its judgment. However, the judge did not rule on the motion to intervene, and Zurich appealed that judgment before it became final.
In contrast, in Yuncker, the insurer moved to intervene after the judge had entered its judgment affirming the arbitration award. The court again failed to rule on the motion to intervene.
From here, the treatment of these cases diverged. In Henson, the court of appeals found that the judgment was not final as the trial court had failed to rule on the motion to intervene before entering its judgment. The case was ultimately remanded back to the trial court so that the court could rule on the motion to intervene. The opinion did not resolve Zurich’s right to intervene in the matter but made it clear that the trial court must rule on a pending motion to intervene before entering judgment.
However, Yuncker illustrates what can happen when an insurer moves to intervene after judgment is entered in an underlying tort claim. In that case, the court found that Zurich lacked any standing to appeal because the motion was not an authorized after trial motion, even though such motions are allowed by the rules of civil procedure. As such, the trial court was not required to rule on the motion and did not err in not doing so. Notably, Zurich would have been entitled to appeal if the court ruled on the motion. See Frost v. White, 778 S.W.2d 670 (Mo. App. W.D. 1989). However, Zurich lacked standing to appeal in the absence of that ruling. Zurich now lacks any avenue to challenge the underlying judgment.
These cases illustrate the importance of timely and promptly moving to intervene in any underlying personal injury actions before judgment is entered.